Enceladus rains water onto Saturn

The Herschel space telescope has discovered that the water expelled from the tiger stripes on Enceladus eventually rains down on Saturn.

Enceladus expels around 250 kg of water vapour every second, through a collection of jets from the south polar region known as the Tiger Stripes because of their distinctive surface markings. These crucial observations reveal that the water creates a doughnut-shaped torus of vapour surrounding the ringed planet. The total width of the torus is more than 10 times the radius of Saturn, yet it is only about one Saturn radius thick. Enceladus orbits the planet at a distance of about four Saturn radii, replenishing the torus with its jets of water.

Ethane lakes in a red haze: Titan’s uncanny moonscape

Titan’s ethane lakes in a red haze.

So far, there are no recognisable signs of organic life. That’s not surprising: by terrestrial standards, Titan is a deep freeze with surface temperatures at a chilly -180°C. Yet Titan is very much alive in the sense that its atmosphere and surface are changing before our eyes. Clouds drift through the haze and rain falls from them to erode stream-like channels draining into shallow lakes. Vast dune fields that look as if they were lifted from the Sahara sprawl along Titan’s equator, yet the dark grains resemble ground asphalt rather than sand. It is a bizarrely different world that looks eerily like home. Or as planetary scientist Ralph Lorenz puts it: “our prototype weird-world exoplanet”.