The paper was published in the journal Nature, and states that the material is erupting in long “curtains” from 75-mile long cracks found in the south polar region of Enceladus. Their conclusion was informed by a series of images, which are of a higher resolution than those which were available previously, writes Deborah Netburn for The Los Angeles Times.
Jets are part of a continuous “curtain”
Lead study author Joseph Spitale, an astronomer at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, said that earlier images from the Cassini probe made it look as though small jets of material were erupting from Enceladus’ surface. Now new pictures taken from closer to Saturn’s moon show that individual jets are less distinct.
“It looked like a lot of fine jets,” Spitale said. He reached his groundbreaking conclusion after trying, and failing to triangulate the jets in the new pictures, as well as noticing a glow from the jets which made him think that they might be long curtains rather than individual sources of material.
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By modeling the jets as a long curtain, the researchers could explain what they were observing in the latest images, as well as partially explaining certain features of the old pictures.
Research crucial in investigating Enceladus
Researchers explain that the “tiger stripes,” as the cracks in the surface of Enceladus are known, are not perfectly straight. At some points we are effectively looking through a fold in the “curtain” of the cracks, and these folds can appear to be distinct jets even though they are not.
“It is just like if you have sheer curtains in your windows,” Spitale said. “Sometimes you are looking through more curtain and sometimes you are looking through less, so the curtains can look darker and lighter.”
If you waved your hand over the cracks, you would not feel anything because the amount of material being expelled is so small. However modeling the behavior of the spray is incredibly important to scientists, because it may reveal what is beneath the surface of Enceladus.
“The ultimate goal would be to see if there is a body of water beneath the surface,” he said.