Taking the air on the moons of Saturn

Paul Raven @ 26-11-2010

Sounds like something out of an Edwin Morgan* poem… but what are poems but dreams of possible truths, eh? From io9, suggestions based on Cassini probe data that Rhea, one Saturn’s many moons, might have a breathable oxygen-rich atmosphere:

It seems oxygen is far more abundant than we ever suspected, particularly on moons that seem to be completely frozen solid. We recently found evidence of oxygen on Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede, and now this finding on Europa. In fact, because the region of space surrounding Saturn’s rings has an oxygen atmosphere, it’s thought even more of the icy moons within the gas giant’s magnetosphere likely have little atmospheres of their own.

According to new data from the Cassini probe, the moon’s thin atmosphere is kept up by the constant chemical decomposition of ice water on the surface of Rhea. It’s likely that Saturn’s fierce magnetosphere is continually irradiating this ice water, which is what helps to maintain the atmosphere. Researchers suspect a lot of Rhea’s oxygen isn’t actually free right now, but is instead trapped inside Rhea’s frozen oceans.

The last couple of years have seen the Rare Earth hypothesis take a number of serious body-blows, what with moons with atmospheres and oceans, and the sudden rash of exoplanet discoveries; I doubt I’m the only person here who isn’t too sad about that. 🙂

[ * Probably my favourite poet, and a trailbreaker in sf and concrete poetry right back in the Sputnik era, Edwin Morgan is already much missed. Rest in peace, sir. ]

Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “Taking the air on the moons of Saturn”

  1. SpeakerToManagers says:

    No, not breathable; according to the original article it’s way too thin to breathe. The thing that’s puzzling scientists isn’t the oxygen, it’s where the CO2 that’s also there is coming from.