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An enormous plume erupting on Saturn’s moon Enceladus may
be emanating from a substance much colder than liquid water,
scientists announced today.
The great geyser, discovered by the Cassini spacecraft, was
believed to have been fed by cavities of liquid water sitting
below the frozen surface of the moon.
But a new model suggests that these jets spring from an ice
phase called clathrate.
Nitrogen and methane, almost insoluble in water, are highly
soluble in clathrate.
When exposed to vacuum, the gas molecules burst out, ripping
the ice lattice to shreds and carrying the fragments away.