Artist's impression of the water geysers on Enceladus that have been captured several times by NASA's spacecraft. Scientists believe that worlds with underground oceans like Enceladus are more suitable for the formation of life than planets with surface oceans like Earth. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Saturn’s Icy Moon Enceladus Sprays a Life-Promising Plume

In a groundbreaking discovery that redefines our understanding of the Solar System, the James Webb Space Telescope has detected a colossal geyser on one of Saturn's moons, spewing water hundreds of miles into space. This celestial phenomenon, which was previously thought impossible on such a scale, has been captured by the world's most advanced space telescope, the James Webb, further bolstering our comprehension of the activity occurring within our cosmic backyard.


Enceladus, Saturn’s icy satellite, has again astounded scientists by ejecting an immense watery plume teeming with the chemical components that could foster life, now observed in unprecedented detail.

Vast Plume Unveiled by JWST

In November 2022, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) captured the spectacle of Enceladus releasing a massive plume into the cosmos. The disclosure came at a recent Space Telescope Science Institute conference held in Baltimore on May 17th.

A Remarkable Discovery

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s planetary astronomer, Sara Faggi, shared her awe about the plume’s immensity at the conference, as per The comprehensive research paper documenting the significant plume is forthcoming.

Unparalleled Insights from James Webb

While not the first instance of Enceladus’ watery ejections, the broader field of view and heightened sensitivity of the James Webb Space Telescope have unveiled a startling revelation: the vapor jets stretch far beyond previous estimations, extending multiple times the moon’s diameter of 313 miles (or 504 kilometers).


A Water-Driven History

The discovery of Enceladus’ icy spouts dates back to 2005 when NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spotted them gushing through large lunar fissures, known as “tiger stripes.” The force of these ejections is so great they even contribute to Saturn’s ring formation, according to NASA.

Ingredients for Life

Upon analyzing the jets, scientists found they comprised methane, carbon dioxide, and ammonia — organic molecules containing life’s essential chemical building blocks. Last year’s research in The Planetary Science Journal hypothesized that life forms could be the source of some of these gases, bubbling up methane from Enceladus’ depths.

Enceladus: Oceans Beneath Icy Crust Point to Life

Enceladus’ icy exterior hides another vital life-sustaining element: water. A substantial ocean, detected beneath the frozen crust via rotational measurements, feeds the water spurts seen by JWST and Cassini. The existence of silica in the vapor plumes bolsters the theory of underwater hydrothermal vents.

Future Missions to Enceladus

NASA’s exploration plans for Enceladus involve return missions to look for life signs. One proposal includes the Enceladus Orbilander, which would orbit the moon, gather plume samples, and eventually land on the icy surface for extensive studies using a variety of scientific instruments.


Exploring Enceladus’ Ocean Floor

One of the innovative mission proposals features the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor, an autonomous “snake robot” designed to probe Enceladus’ oceanic depths, equipped with cameras and lidar for navigational aid.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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