The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Herschel space observatory has revealed an incredibly unique feature of Saturn’s interaction with one of its moons, Enceladus. Some of the water that is ejected from its southern poles finds its way to Saturn’s atmosphere – something we have only conclusively observed in July 2011.
The Cassini flight in 2009 took the picture above, showing the jets of water vapour observed on Saturn’s moon, showing us this incredible phenomenon. It has also been known since 1997 that Saturn’s upper atmosphere contains water.
The Herschel observations have revealed that 3-5% of the water that Enceladus ejects actually ends up in a great doughnut-shaped torus around Saturn – providing the explanation for why water is observed in Saturn’s atmosphere.
Lead researcher from the Max-Plank-Institut für Sonnensystemforschung, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, Paul Hartogh commented:
“There is no analogy to this behaviour on Earth. No significant quantities of water enter our atmosphere from space. This is unique to Saturn.”
In other words, other planets may just have some pretty awesome things going on that we don’t even know about yet – our Solar System is pretty damned cool. Now imagine what other wonders await us in the final frontier…