...or - more likely - deep cavern reservoirs.
They also indicate that the water, warmed by tidal forces from Saturn's powerful gravity, could be as salty as the Earth's oceans and not too acidic
for life. Organic chemicals have also been detected in the plumes.
Together, the results point to an environment that at least offers the possibility of a place where life could dwell.
The icy grains forming Saturn's E-ring were studied by a European instrument on the American space agency Nasa's Cassini spacecraft.
Cassini first detected the Enceladus water jets in July 2005.
A team led by Dr Frank Postberg, from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany, wrote in the journal Nature: "Alkaline salt
water, together with the observed organic compounds and the thermal energy obviously present in the south polar region, could provide an environment
well suited for the formation of life precursors."
Cassini's Cosmic Dust Analyser instrument found that about 6% of the grains forming the E-ring were rich in sodium salts. This could only have arisen
if the plumes feeding the ring originated from salty water, said the scientists.
The picture is complicated by separate ground-based observations, also reported in Nature, showing no sign of sodium in the plumes themselves.
But this would not be surprising if the salty water was evaporating slowly in pressurised underground chambers rather than explosively in a vacuum,
say the scientists.
Dr Postberg said: "The original picture of the plumes as violently erupting Yellowstone-like geysers is changing. They seem more like steady jets of
vapour and ice fed by a large water reservoir. However, we can't decide yet if the water is currently 'trapped' within huge pockets in Enceladus'
thick crust ice or still connected to a large ocean in contact with the rocky core."
Further data from Enceladus is expected to come from two more Cassini flybys in November.
Commenting on the research in Nature, US planetary scientist Dr John Spencer, from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, wrote: "Many
more discoveries are.. likely, and with each Enceladus becomes more exotic.
"Our picture of its subsurface must now be expanded to include the possibility of misty ice caverns floored with pools and channels of salty water,
lurking beneath the tiger stripes. What else may lurk in those salty pools, if they exist, remains to be seen."
Have checked ATS and cannot find this already being discussed so thought I'd share.
The bit that seems interesting is "Organic chemicals have also been detected in the plumes".
Hope you enjoy !
(visit the link for the full news article)