Saturn's Icy Moon May Have Been Hot Enough for Life, Study Finds

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2

But for now Cassini's next step is to pass through the geyser's plume, an encounter scheduled for March 2008.

Matson discussed his research at the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. His findings will appear in the April issue of the journal Icarus.

Moon Had Hot Start

Scientists agree that Enceladus's jets indicate the moon's interior is hot, but how hot and why remain mysterious.

A theory unveiled at the conference suggests that the heat might have originated from the radioactive decay of aluminum and iron.

"Enceladus is a very small body, and it's made almost entirely of ice and rock," said Julie Castillo of JPL in a press release.

"The puzzle is how the moon developed a warm core."

The new theory posits that heat from the decay of radioactive elements softened the moon's interior. This allowed the pull of Saturn's gravity to flex the moon's hot core like a rubber ball—a process that could continue generating heat indefinitely.

Other scientists aren't convinced that radioactive materials were the source of the moon's internal heat.

"There are quite a lot of ideas being kicked around," said John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute. "This is just one."

"[But] something had to kick-start Enceladus into [its present] state," he added.

Free Email News Updates
Best Online Newsletter, 2006 Codie Awards

Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2


SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES

ADVERTISEMENT

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S PHOTO OF THE DAY

NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.