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Concept: Enceladus


The detection of silica-rich dust particles, as an indication for ongoing hydrothermal activity, and the presence of water and organic molecules in the plume of Enceladus, have made Saturn’s icy moon a hot spot in the search for potential extraterrestrial life. Methanogenic archaea are among the organisms that could potentially thrive under the predicted conditions on Enceladus, considering that both molecular hydrogen (H2) and methane (CH4) have been detected in the plume. Here we show that a methanogenic archaeon, Methanothermococcus okinawensis, can produce CH4under physicochemical conditions extrapolated for Enceladus. Up to 72% carbon dioxide to CH4conversion is reached at 50 bar in the presence of potential inhibitors. Furthermore, kinetic and thermodynamic computations of low-temperature serpentinization indicate that there may be sufficient H2gas production to serve as a substrate for CH4production on Enceladus. We conclude that some of the CH4detected in the plume of Enceladus might, in principle, be produced by methanogens.

Concepts: Oxygen, Atom, Carbon, Methane, Jupiter, Methanogen, Titan, Enceladus


Detection of sodium-salt-rich ice grains emitted from the plume of the Saturnian moon Enceladus suggests that the grains formed as frozen droplets from a liquid water reservoir that is, or has been, in contact with rock. Gravitational field measurements suggest a regional south polar subsurface ocean of about 10 kilometres thickness located beneath an ice crust 30 to 40 kilometres thick. These findings imply rock-water interactions in regions surrounding the core of Enceladus. The resulting chemical ‘footprints’ are expected to be preserved in the liquid and subsequently transported upwards to the near-surface plume sources, where they eventually would be ejected and could be measured by a spacecraft. Here we report an analysis of silicon-rich, nanometre-sized dust particles (so-called stream particles) that stand out from the water-ice-dominated objects characteristic of Saturn. We interpret these grains as nanometre-sized SiO2 (silica) particles, initially embedded in icy grains emitted from Enceladus' subsurface waters and released by sputter erosion in Saturn’s E ring. The composition and the limited size range (2 to 8 nanometres in radius) of stream particles indicate ongoing high-temperature (>90 °C) hydrothermal reactions associated with global-scale geothermal activity that quickly transports hydrothermal products from the ocean floor at a depth of at least 40 kilometres up to the plume of Enceladus.

Concepts: Water, Moon, Groundwater, Liquid, Surface tension, Ocean, Geyser, Enceladus


Spacecraft observations suggest that the plumes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus draw water from a subsurface ocean, but the sustainability of conduits linking ocean and surface is not understood. Observations show eruptions from “tiger stripe” fissures that are sustained (although tidally modulated) throughout each orbit, and since the 2005 discovery of the plumes. Peak plume flux lags peak tidal extension by[Formula: see text]1 rad, suggestive of resonance. Here, we show that a model of the tiger stripes as tidally flexed slots that puncture the ice shell can simultaneously explain the persistence of the eruptions through the tidal cycle, the phase lag, and the total power output of the tiger stripe terrain, while suggesting that eruptions are maintained over geological timescales. The delay associated with flushing and refilling ofO(1)-m-wide slots with ocean water causes erupted flux to lag tidal forcing and helps to buttress slots against closure, while tidally pumped in-slot flow leads to heating and mechanical disruption that staves off slot freezeout. Much narrower and much wider slots cannot be sustained. In the presence of long-lived slots, the 10(6)-y average power output of the tiger stripes is buffered by a feedback between ice melt-back and subsidence toO(10(10)) W, which is similar to observed power output, suggesting long-term stability. Turbulent dissipation makes testable predictions for the final flybys of Enceladus byCassini Our model shows how open connections to an ocean can be reconciled with, and sustain, long-lived eruptions. Turbulent dissipation in long-lived slots helps maintain the ocean against freezing, maintains access by future Enceladus missions to ocean materials, and is plausibly the major energy source for tiger stripe activity.

Concepts: Scientific method, Water, Oceanography, Moon, Hypothesis, Explanation, Ocean, Enceladus


The discovery by NASA’s Cassini mission at Saturn in 2005 of a large plume of material erupting from the south polar terrain of Enceladus, sourced within a subsurface ocean of salty liquid water laced with organic compounds, has brought together scientists from a diverse range of disciplines over the last decade to evaluate this small moon’s potential for extraterrestrial life. The collection of papers published today in Astrobiology, as the mission draws to a close, is the outcome of our most recent meeting at UC Berkeley in June 2016. Key Words: Enceladus-Enceladus Focus Group-Ocean world-Search for biosignatures. Astrobiology 17, xxx-xxx.

Concepts: Water, Mars, Jupiter, NASA, Titan, Enceladus, Extraterrestrial life, Europa


During three low-altitude (99, 66, 66 km) flybys through the Enceladus' plume in 2010 and 2011, Cassini’s ion neutral mass spectrometer (INMS) made its first high spatial resolution measurements of the plume’s gas density and distribution, detecting in situ the individual gas jets within the broad plume. Since those flybys, more detailed Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) imaging observations of the plume’s icy component have been reported, which constrain the locations and orientations of the numerous gas/grain jets. In the present study, we used these ISS imaging results, together with ultraviolet imaging spectrograph stellar and solar occultation measurements and modeling of the three-dimensional structure of the vapor cloud, to constrain the magnitudes, velocities, and time variability of the plume gas sources from the INMS data. Our results confirm a mixture of both low and high Mach gas emission from Enceladus' surface tiger stripes, with gas accelerated as fast as Mach 10 before escaping the surface. The vapor source fluxes and jet intensities/densities vary dramatically and stochastically, up to a factor 10, both spatially along the tiger stripes, and over time between flyby observations. This complex spatial variability and dynamics may result from time-variable tidal stress fields interacting with subsurface fissure geometry and tortuosity beyond detectability, including changing gas pathways to the surface, and fluid flow and boiling in response evolving lithostatic stress conditions. The total plume gas source has 30% uncertainty depending on the contributions assumed for adiabatic and nonadiabatic gas expansion/acceleration to the high Mach emission. The overall vapor plume source rate exhibits stochastic time variability up to a factor ∼5 between observations, reflecting that found in the individual gas sources/jets. Key Words: Cassini at saturn-Geysers-Enceladus-Gas dynamics-Icy satellites. Astrobiology 17, xxx-xxx.

Concepts: Time, Optics, Water, Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Liquid, Classical mechanics, Enceladus


Metolachlor is one of the most intensively used chloroacetanilide herbicides in agriculture. It has been detected in water; consequently, under UV-visible irradiation, it can be transformed in degradation products (TPs). The structures of TPs were elucidated by liquid chromatography/high-resolution tandem mass spectrometry (LC/HR-MS/MS). The potential toxicities of these TPs were estimated by in silico tests.

Concepts: Mass spectrometry, Energy, Structure, In Silico, Musical form, Tandem mass spectrometry, Surface runoff, Enceladus


Limits in the evolution of biological form can be empirically demonstrated by using theoretical morphospace analyses, and actual analytic examples are given for univalved ammonoid shell form, bivalved brachiopod shell form and helical bryozoan colony form. Limits in the evolution of form in these animal groups can be shown to be due to functional and developmental constraints on possible evolutionary trajectories in morphospace. Future evolutionary-limit research is needed to analyse the possible existence of temporal constraint in the evolution of biological form on Earth, and in the search for the possible existence of functional alien life forms on Titan and Triton that are developmentally impossible for Earth life.

Concepts: Scientific method, Evolution, Organism, Life, Greek loanwords, Paleontology, Enceladus, Extraterrestrial life


We present a model for the internal structure of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. This model allows us to estimate the physical conditions at the bottom of the satellite’s potential subsurface water reservoir and to determine the radial distribution of pressure and gravity. This leads to a better understanding of the physical and chemical conditions at the water/rock boundary. This boundary is the most promising area on icy moons for astrobiological studies as it could serve as a potential habitat for extraterrestrial life similar to terrestrial microbes that inhabit rocky mounds on Earth’s sea floors.

Concepts: Earth, Planet, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Titan, Enceladus, Extraterrestrial life


We report the first study of stable carbon isotope fractionation during microbial fermentation of acetylene (C2H2) in sediments, sediment enrichments, and bacterial cultures. Kinetic isotope effects (KIEs) averaged 3.7 ± 0.5‰ for slurries prepared with sediment collected at an intertidal mudflat in San Francisco Bay and 2.7 ± 0.2‰ for a pure culture of Pelobacter sp. isolated from these sediments. A similar KIE of 1.8 ± 0.7‰ was obtained for methanogenic enrichments derived from sediment collected at freshwater Searsville Lake, California. However, C2H2 uptake by a highly enriched mixed culture (strain SV7) obtained from Searsville Lake sediments resulted in a larger KIE of 9.0 ± 0.7‰. These are modest KIEs when compared with fractionation observed during oxidation of C1 compounds such as methane and methyl halides but are comparable to results obtained with other C2 compounds. These observations may be useful in distinguishing biologically active processes operating at distant locales in the Solar System where C2H2 is present. These locales include the surface of Saturn’s largest moon Titan and the vaporous water- and hydrocarbon-rich jets emanating from Enceladus. Key Words: Acetylene-Fermentation-Isotope fractionation-Enceladus-Life detection. Astrobiology 15, xxx-xxx.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Water, Sediment, Solar System, Carbon, Methane, Saturn, Enceladus


1-Substituted imidazoles undergo exceptionally facile stereoselective ring opening under the influence of electron-deficient acetylenes and water (equimolar ratio of the reactants) in MeCN at 45-60 °C without any catalysts to afford functionalized (Z,Z)-1,4-diaza-2,5-dienes, (Z,Z)-propenylaminoethenylformamides, in up to 80% yields. The reaction is rationalized to proceed in a tandem manner via zwitterionic vinyl carbanions formed by nucleophilic addition of imidazole to the triple bond. The carbanionic center is then quenched with water followed by the rearrangement of the intermediate 2-hydroxy-3-alkenylimidazolines.

Concepts: Chemical reaction, Hydrogen, Alkene, Imidazole, Enceladus