Webb Space Telescope Detects 6,000-Mile Water Plume Jetting From Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

Artist’s impression of the Cassini spacecraft flying through plumes emerging from the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. These plumes are similar to geysers and emit a mixture of steam, ice, salts, methane and other organic molecules. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The connection between the Moon’s wormholes and Saturn’s ring system was explored by Webb

Enceladus – A small, icy moon[{” attribute=””>Saturn—is one of the most intriguing objects in the search for signs of life beyond our own planet.

Under a crust of ice lies a global ocean of salty water. Jets, supplied by that ocean, gush from the surface of the moon and feed into the entire system of Saturn. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s long-awaited first look at this ocean world is already revealing staggering new details about the moon — including a plume of water vapor that spouts out more than 20 times the size of the moon itself.

Enceladus Plume (Webb NIRSpec and Cassini Image)

An image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) shows a water vapor plume jetting from the southern pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, extending out more than 20 times the size of the moon itself. The inset, an image from the Cassini orbiter, emphasizes how small Enceladus appears in the Webb image compared to the water plume. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Geronimo Villanueva (NASA-GSFC), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

Webb Space Telescope Maps Surprisingly Large Plume Jetting From Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

A water vapor plume from Saturn’s moon Enceladus spanning more than 6,000 miles – nearly the distance from Los Angeles, California to Buenos Aires, Argentina – has been detected by researchers using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Not only is this the first time such a water emission has been seen over such an expansive distance, but Webb is also giving scientists a direct look, for the first time, at how this emission feeds the water supply for the entire system of Saturn and its rings.

Enceladus, an ocean world about four percent the size of Earth, just 313 miles across, is one of the most exciting scientific targets in our solar system in the search for life beyond Earth. Sandwiched between the moon’s icy outer crust and its rocky core is a global reservoir of salty water. Geyser-like volcanos spew jets of ice particles, water vapor, and organic chemicals out of crevices in the moon’s surface informally called ‘tiger stripes.’

Previously, observatories have mapped jets hundreds of miles from the moon’s surface, but Webb’s exquisite sensitivity reveals a new story.


Researchers using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope recently discovered an outflow from the moon’s south pole that is 20 times larger than the moon itself. This animation illustrates how the moon’s water worms feed on the planet Taurus. By analyzing Webb data, astronomers have determined that about 30 percent of this torus is water, with the other 70 percent contributing water to Saturn’s system. Credit: Leah Hustak (STScI), NASA, ESA, CSA, Geronimo Villanueva, Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

“When I looked at the data, at first, I thought I must be wrong. It was really shocking to find a water plume 20 times the size of the Moon,” said lead author Jeronimo Villanueva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. extending beyond its area of ​​issue at the pole.”

Bloom length isn’t the only trait that has intrigued researchers. Vapor output is also excellent at around 79 gallons per second. At this rate, an Olympic-sized swimming pool can be filled in a couple of hours. By comparison, doing so with a garden hose on Earth would take over 2 weeks.

The[{” attribute=””>Cassini orbiter spent over a decade exploring the Saturnian system, and not only imaged the plumes of Enceladus for the first time but flew directly through them and sampled what they were made of. While Cassini’s position within the Saturnian system provided invaluable insights into this distant moon, Webb’s unique view from the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 one million miles from Earth, along with the remarkable sensitivity of its Integral Field Unit (see video below) aboard the NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) Instrument, is offering new context.


The James Webb Space Telescope will use an innovative instrument called an Integrated Field Unit (IFU) to capture images and spectra simultaneously. This video gives a basic overview of how IFU works. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and L. Hustak (STScI)

“Enceladus’ orbit around Saturn is relatively quick, just 33 hours. “As it orbits Saturn, the moon and its jets spit water, leaving an almost donut-like halo in its wake,” Villanueva said. “In web observations, not only was the plume huge, but there was just water everywhere.”

This obscure donut that appears ‘everywhere’, described as Taurus, co-exists with Saturn’s outer and widest ring – the dense “E-ring”.

Webb observations provide direct evidence of how the Moon’s vapor plumes feed Taurus. By analyzing Webb data, astronomers have determined that about 30 percent of this torus is water, with the remaining 70 percent to supply the water of the Saturn system.

In the coming years, Webb will serve as the primary observatory of the ocean moon Enceladus, and Webb’s findings will help inform future solar system satellite missions that will probe the depth of the surface ocean, the thickness of the ice crust, and more.

Enceladus Water Emission Spectrum (Web NIRSpec IFU)

The exquisite sensitivity and highly specialized instruments of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope are revealing details of how one of Saturn’s moons feeds the water supply to the ringed planet’s entire system. Enceladus, a small moon about four percent the size of Earth, is a prime candidate for the search for life elsewhere in our solar system. New images from Webb’s NIRSpec (near-infrared spectrum) have revealed a vapor plume jetting from Enceladus’ south pole that stretches more than 20 times the size of the moon. The Integrated Field Unit (IFU) on board NIRSpec also provided insights into how water from Enceladus feeds its surrounding environment.
Enceladus orbits Saturn in just 33 hours, and it sprays water, leaving a torus—or ‘doughnut’—object in its wake. This torus is depicted in the upper diagram in light blue.
Webb’s IFU is a combination of camera and spectrograph. During an IFU observation, the instrument captures an image of the field of view with the individual spectrum of each pixel in the field of view. IFU observations allow astronomers to study how properties—in this case composition—vary with space over a region of space.
The unique sensitivity of Webb’s IFU allowed the researchers to detect much of the water that originated from the torus surrounding Enceladus and the plume. This simultaneous collection of spectra from Bloom and Torres has allowed researchers to better understand their close relationship. In this spectrum, the white lines are Webb’s data, and the best-fit models for water emission are overlaid in different colors—purple for the plume, green for the Moon’s core, and red for the surrounding torus.
Credit: Geronimo Villanueva (NASA-GSFC), NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Leah Hustak (STScI)

“Now, the web provides a unique way to directly measure how water forms and changes over time across Enceladus’ enormous plume, and as we look here, we’ll make new discoveries and learn more about the ocean floor,” he added. Stephanie Milam is a co-author at NASA Goddard. “Because of the wavelength coverage and sensitivity of the web and what we’ve learned from previous work, we have a new window of opportunity in front of us.”

Webb’s observations of Enceladus were completed under the Guaranteed Time Observation (GTO) Project 1250. The initial goal of this project is to demonstrate the Web’s capabilities in a specific area of ​​science and set the stage for future research.

“This project has basically been a proof of concept that has been building the lab for years, and it’s exciting that all this science has already come out of such a short observation time,” said Heidi Hammel of the Association of Universities for Research. Astronomy, Webb is an interdisciplinary scientist and head of the GTO program.

The panel’s results were recently accepted for publication Natural Astronomy On May 17.

Reference: “JWST Molecular Mapping and Characterization of Enceladus’ Water Plume Feeding Its Torus” GL Villanueva, HB Hammel, SN Milam, V. Goffman, S. Fauci, CR
Klein, R. Cartwright, L. Roth, K.B. Hand, L. Paganini, J. Spencer, J. Stansberry, B. Holler, N. Rowe-Kurney, S. Protopaba, G. Strassulla, G. Liuzzi, G. Cruz -mermi, m. El Moudamid, M. Hedman and K. Denny, accepted, Natural Astronomy.
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As the world’s premier space science laboratory, the James Webb Space Telescope will unravel the mysteries of our solar system, beyond the distant worlds around other stars, and explore the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and its place within it. WEB is an international project led by NASA’s partners, ESA.European Space Agency), and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

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