New observations from NASA's Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft have revealed at least 101 individual geysers erupting from Enceladus' crust and, through careful analysis, planetary scientists have uncovered their origin.
Over a period of seven years, Cassini has been gradually building up a map of the small icy world. One of Enceladus' most famous features - its south polar "tiger stripes" - have been of special interest.
NEWS: Saturn's Moon Enceladus Has Underground Ocean
From the cracked ice in this region, fissures blast out water vapor mixed with organic compounds as huge geysers. Associated with these geysers are surface "hotspots," but until now, there has been some ambiguity as to whether the hotspots are creating the geysers or whether the geysers are creating the hotspots.
In two new publications published in the Astrophysical Journal today (July 29), this Saturnian "chicken or the egg" conundrum has now been solved.
Enceladus' tiger stripes were first spotted in 2005 during a Cassini flyby. During each consecutive flyby, astronomers have been carefully studying these 80-mile-long, 1.5-mile-wide depressions in the ice. Associated with each linear stripe is a heat signature, from which the geysers are actively ejecting vapor into space.