Dec 28

Images: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

An enormous storm has erupted in Saturn’s northern hemisphere.

Amateurs first sighted the storm earlier this month, but the Cassini spacecraft moved into a good position on Dec. 24 to photograph it from about 1.1 million miles away. Earth received the raw and unprocessed shots today.

The storm has a huge central funnel and a long tail that sweeps around Saturn’s northern hemisphere for tens of thousands of miles. A shot in blue light (left) reveals the extent of the tail, but infrared light (right) shows detail of the storm’s amorphous core. The photos were taken exactly a month after Cassini recovered from a solar-flare-induced error that temporarily silenced the spacecraft from Nov. 2 through Nov. 24.

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Nov 28

Huge plumes of water vapour and ice particles are bursting out from Saturn’s moon Enceladus at supersonic speeds in a way that strongly suggests they come from liquid water down below the icy surface, scientists have said.

Artist’s impression of the Cassini spacecraft passing through plumes from geysers that erupt from giant fissures in the moon’s southern polar region Photo: REUTERS

The research, published in the journal Nature, offers new evidence that the moon may harbor an underground ocean of water, meaning conditions might exist that could support life, even if only microbial organisms.

‘We think liquid water is necessary for life and there is more evidence that there is liquid water there,’ said lead researcher Candice Hansen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

‘You also need energy, you need nutrients, you need organics. It looks like the pieces are there. Whether or not there’s actually life, of course, we can’t say.’

Scientists are aware of only three places where liquid water exists near the surface of a planet or other body – Earth, Jupiter’s moon Europa and now Enceladus.

In July Nasa’s Phoenix Mars Lander confirmed the presence of ice on Mars.

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