15 December 2006

Cold faithful - really cold

The “Cold Faithful” geysers on Enceladus may be really cold — as in, much colder than ice — if they’re erupting clathrates (an ice phase) which can dissolve much of the nitrogen, methane, carbon dioxide etc which accompanies the observed water.

The solubles presented a problem for existing theories, as liquid water doesn’t dissolve very much of the other gases. If the eruptions use clathrate, that both carries the other gases & coats the surface cracks on Enceladus with ice and/or water.

This also leaves room for Enceladus’ crust to be geologically active, constantly growing & demolishing surface cracks. It’s another reminder that things are different out there, & that those comfortable old lab thought-experiments may not rove far enough to be useful.

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