During a NASA science briefing on April 13, representatives from the agency discussed new results about ocean worlds in our solar system based on data gathered by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope.
The two veteran missions are providing tantalizing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn, further enhancing the scientific interest of these and other “ocean worlds” in our solar system and beyond.
New research from Cassini indicates that hydrogen gas, which could potentially provide a chemical energy source for life, is pouring into the ocean of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus from hydrothermal vents in the seafloor. The Cassini spacecraft detected the hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy material spraying from Enceladus during its deepest dive through the plume on Oct. 28, 2015.This means that ocean microbes — if any exist there — could use the hydrogen to produce energy
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope saw a probable plume of material erupting from the moon’s surface on 2016, at the same location where Hubble saw evidence of a plume in 2014. These images bolster evidence that the Europa plumes could be a real phenomenon, flaring up intermittently in the same region on the moon’s surface.
Both Cassini and Hubble investigations are laying the groundwork for NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which is being planned for launch in the 2020s.