Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pack Your Skis for Saturn's Enceladus

Here's a winter ski resort you probably haven't thought of: Enceladus, a moon circling Saturn, which, in addition to ice-spewing volcanoes, has a constant snowfall of fine, powdery crystals.

"The color is very pale pinky, I think," lead researcher Paul Schenk, with the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, told Discovery News. "It is believed to be a salty water ice snow and that might give it a slight tint."

Using data collected by NASA's Saturn-orbiting Cassini probe, Schenk's team built computer models and found that icy particles blasting out from the moon's hot surface vents, known as "tiger stripes," return in regular, predictable patterns.

The crystals are very tiny -- only a fraction of a millimeter in length and about a micron or two in diameter. A micron is about the width of a red blood cell. But the icy snowfall, finer than talcum powder, builds up steadily over time, accumulating in drifts that vary from a few millimeters in height to more than 300 feet.
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