Issue Date: March 31, 2008
Organic Brew Found On A Saturn Moon
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has returned data from a mid-March flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus showing warmer than expected surface temperatures in some regions and a higher than expected density of organic material erupting from the moon. The spacecraft used its composite infrared spectrometer to map surface temperatures and found that temperatures in some regions near fissures are at least -135 oF—some 63 °F warmer than previously observed and 200 °F warmer than in other regions of the moon. Results from the flyby also indicate that geysers in the southern polar region are spewing water vapor and organic chemicals similar to material detected in comets. In particular, Cassini's ion and neutral mass spectrometer detected water vapor, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other organic material that was 20 times more dense than expected. "Enceladus has got warmth, water, and organic chemicals, some of the essential building blocks needed for life," said Dennis Matson, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We have quite a recipe for life on our hands, but we have yet to find the final ingredient, liquid water."
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