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Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Enceladus: The moon with the soda lake ocean....

Above: The big, organic chemical shrouded, moon Titan is the backdrop for teensy moon Enceladus, and a section of the rings of Saturn.. By Teensy I mean 500km across. That's teensy, as moons go. Don't go making them feel bad about their colossal girth. Courtesy of NASA.
The distant Saturn system - one gas giant, innumerable moons, and rings - has mysteries aplenty. Luckily we've had the Cassini mission exploring this incredible part of the Universe, and it has discovered two worlds there of particular interest: Titan, with its bizzare 'cryogenic Earth' environment, and Enceladus, a tiny ice ball, with an inexplicable heat source at its southern pole, keeping a tiny ocean warm....

...and now we know a little more about it. This isn't just a pond of meltwater - using data from Cassini Christopher Glein, John Baross, Hunter Waite have found that, as well as being loaded with salts and organic molecules, the water is strongly alkaline like the soda lakes of Earth.

Above: A Hippo at a soda lake in Africa. The sea of Enceladus is like this, but under miles of ice, billions of miles away in space, and without the hippo.
I'm not 100% on the hippo, but it's not likely anyway..... courtesy fo Wilds of Africa.
Even though the PH is strong (11 to 12) this isn't bad news for those hoping to find life beneath the ice one day. Alkaline lakes with the same PH are usually full of unique organisms that have adapted to the waters. We can also use this to infer some things about Enceladus core and heat source - for example that its core has probably never differentiated into inner and outer parts.

Elsewhere in the 'verse:

NASA have released a video showing the far side of the Moon, using data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission:

This week the LRO team have also announced that hydrogen at the Moon's poles (some of which is thought to be bound up in water) seems to be slightly more abundant on the poleward facing slopes.

ESA had a successful first flight for it's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) spaceplane. The design isn't meant for development into a full line of ships, it's a stepping stone to something like a civilian version of the US air force's X37-B unmanned spaceplane in a few years.

Above: The Launch of the IXV. Courtesy of ESA.

Elsewhere on the internet:

Number of asteroids reachable by spacecraft doubles

Bacteria turn sunlight into car fuel.

Plank space mission reveals a map of our baby universe

Europe's ATV spacecraft meets a fiery end.

Asteroids underwent 'nonlinear' cooling

DARPA will begin testing an innovative scheme to lower the cost of small satellite launches

SpaceX has second attempt at re-usable rocket test

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