picture of the day
A fractured region near Cairo
Sulcus on Enceladus. Credit: NASA/JPL Space Science Institute.
Oct 31, 2008
Enceladus Cracks and Creaks
New images from the Cassini orbiter reveal structures on
Enceladus that seem to have an electrical origin.
The Cassini mission
team says the picture “shows the myriad of faults,
fractures, folds, troughs and craters that make this Saturnian
satellite especially intriguing to planetary scientists.” The
detailed portion, shown above, of the so-called "broad belt of
complex, interwoven fractures" reveals them to be deep,
steep-walled chasms with loops in their twining pattern.
Planetary scientists immediately
identified these features as “fractures.” They do look
superficially similar to tectonic faults and areas of crustal
compression on Earth. Although Earth is more geologically
diverse than any other body in the solar system, projecting
earth-based doctrines onto alien landscapes starts to lose
coherence when confronted with surface features like those on
Enceladus. Traditional geology has excluded electric discharge
as the most direct and complete explanation for the scarring
patterns observed globally on Enceladus, so the eons-long
processes that are theorized to have created what they see on
Earth are said to do the same things there. However, these
features on a tiny rock with no atmosphere were never
anticipated by theory.
Cassini recently flew close by the superheated geysers erupting
from the south polar region of this frozen moon. One of the
focal points of its trajectory was the "tiger stripe" sources of
hot vapor erupting into space and contributing to Saturn's
rings. Because of several anomalous aspects to the plumes of gas
jetting out of the tiger stripes, those who favor the Electric
Universe hypothesis have always advocated a systematic
comparison of textbook geology with electric discharge theories.
Electric arcs excavate surfaces in ways that cannot be
duplicated by slow geologic process. Grooves and trenches left
by arcs will typically reveal little or no residual material
within the trenches, as if a claw simply descended from above to
scoop material away. Arcs can produce entwining rope-like
trenches where undulating discharge filaments move across the
globe. Gouges are cut lateral to the surface without the crustal
movement required by fracturing. No lateral displacement (which
will show up most obviously where one trench angles across
another) can be observed on the surface of Enceladus.
It bears repeating that the hot poles of Enceladus were a
surprise to NASA investigators. "This is as astonishing as if
we'd flown past Earth and found that Antarctica was warmer than
the Sahara," said John Spencer, an astronomer from the Southwest
Research Institute in Colorado.
A NASA news release announced, “The rare occurrence of liquid
water so near the surface raises many new questions about this
Cassini’s imaging team leader, Carolyn Porco said, “We realize
that this is a radical conclusion—that we may have evidence for
liquid water within a body so small and so cold. However, if we
are right, we have significantly broadened the diversity of
solar system environments where we might possibly have
conditions suitable for living organisms.”
Scientists jumped to the conclusion that liquid water beneath
the surface must be responsible for both the temperature anomaly
and the jets because solar heating and internal heating are the
only energy sources that are allowed in their theories. Solar
heating is completely inadequate because the moon is so far away
from the Sun. Although the south pole of Enceladus is warmer
than "it should be" it is still 261 degrees below zero Celsius.
So-called "tidal kneading" from Saturn fails because the theory
has no explanation for why the effect is limited to the southern
It appears that the
same problems that cometary jets pose are confronting the
Cassini mission. It also appears that they are using the same
shaky theory of narrow surface vents above a subsurface chamber
of hot water. There is no evidence for such vents, either on
comets or on Enceladus.
theorist Wal Thornhill has suggested that the hot jets move
across the surface because they are being created by electric
discharges. The electric arcs that produce the jets are creating
the observed channels as they excavate material from the surface
and accelerate it into space. A parallel to the Enceladus plumes
is provided by the
“volcanoes” on Jupiter’s moon Io. The bright plumes on Io
have moved many kilometers across the surface during observation
over a few decades, excavating material and accelerating it
upward in jets that precisely match the predictions of a
“plasma gun” model.
The jets on
Enceladus originate from the deep tiger stripe channels that
look similar to those that can be found on Jupiter’s moon
Europa. The tiger stripes are part of a vast and intricate
complex of channels on Enceladus that match perfectly the
behavior of electric arcs in simple laboratory experiments.
By Stephen Smith
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