Few reporters, even in the special-interest press, can be plowing the astronomy and solar system beat as thoroughly as Science News‘s Ron Cowen. This week he has slightly arcane – and apparently exclusive – news. He found it within the ongoing discussion of possible, liquid water inside Saturn’s ice-coated moon Enceladus. That’s the moon that was particularly in the news in March – when the Cassini orbiter zipped through the vaporous plumes of H2O and other gases jetting from its south pole (earlier post ). At a Cassini project meeting in Rome last month, Cowen learned and now reports, a German researcher said new evidence suggests that Sodium has collected in Saturn’s wispy, outer E ring. Its best explanation is that liquid water leached it from Enceladus’s rocky interior and geysered into space. The result, Cowen reports, may be the strongest evidence yet for liquid water inside iceball Enceladus – and a boost for chances it contains pre-biotic chemistry and even, just conceivably, life of some sort.
The story largely depends on a chain of inference. Cowen mentions a half dozen sources, some of which say that even the presence of sodium in the E ring remains subject to confirmation. What we have here is not so much new info as a stronger maybe. One suspects that few reporters in the general media would be able to convince editors to make room for this dispatch from the long ledger of reasonable yet embryonic planetary speculation. But for fans of the scientific process written up in plain English it’ll be a treat.