TV Series | The Universe | Contents page
In the beginning, there was darkness,
and then, bang, giving birth
to an endless, expanding existence
of time, space and matter.
Every day, new discoveries are unlocking the mysterious,
the mind-blowing, the deadly secrets
of a place we call the Universe.
This cosmic world is unlike
anything you've ever seen or learned about.
Our galactic neighborhood
is home to seven of the most mesmerizing, violent,
and otherworldly phenomena in the universe.
A stunning planet
whose iconic rings contain mountain ranges
that rival the Alps,
a shimmering moon
where massive geysers of water and ice spew from its surface.
Scale a mega volcano,
then zigzag through a family of Asteroids
before diving into the eye of a super-sized hurricane.
Experience the newest, most mind-blowing discoveries
revolving around our sun
as we venture to the seven wonders of our Solar System.
If you think science has already uncovered every dangerous,
strange and extraordinary phenomenon under the sun,
We are right now in the midst
of the greatest era of space discovery,
And many of the weird and wondrous things
are happening right here in our own cosmic backyard.
Our Solar System is a really fantastic place.
You know, we've now found other planetary systems,
and we've not yet found anything quite like our Solar System.
You've joined us on a magical journey
through the seven wonders
of our Solar System.
We first head for the Orbit of Saturn.
Number seven, Enceladus.
It's midnight, November 2, 2009.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft
orbits the planet Saturn.
Its cameras capture something bizarre
on one of its outer moons named Enceladus.
Most of the Solar System's moons
are geologically dead,
and looking at the glistening, icy surface of its south pole,
Enceladus seems like a peaceful world.
Then suddenly, without warning,
gargantuan geysers of water and ice
eject from cracks on its surface.
Enceladus is a fantastic moon of Saturn.
Though it's relatively small,
Enceladus is different from the volcanism that's here on Earth
where hot magma, which is basically molten rock,
comes out from underneath Earth's surface.
Enceladus has water, basically, liquid water
coming out and freezing
and so it's called Cryovolcanism.
The Cassini spacecraft flies directly
through the energetic plumes that blast hundreds of miles into space
at 1,400 miles per hour.
Enceladus has really caught our imagination recently
because we see geysers coming out of the south pole.
We haven't seen anything like that
on any of the icy moons in the outer Solar System.
So something is going on in Enceladus,
and it's active and we want to know why.
Scientists have counted at least 30 geyser jets
spouting from narrow geological fractures called Tiger Stripes
located along Enceladus' south polar region.
A new infrared map of the area
reveals warm surface temperatures.
The heat emanating from the Tiger Stripes
may be due to the upwelling of water vapor that propels the jets.
One of the few other places to witness truly fascinating wonder,
is on Earth.
At a freshly groomed ski slope
or on a movie set.
Look at this snowmaking machine.
It's like a geyser from Enceladus.
All these ice particles and water droplets
freeze when they encounter that outside air,
and the expanding gases also help cool the dropls
and freeze them.
In the case of Enceladus,
heated liquid water in a cauldron below the surface
goes squirting out through some vents in the south polar region.
And when that water comes out
and encounters the cold surrounding space
it freezes, forming snowflakes and ice particles,
much like the ones coming out of this snowmaking machine.
So wow, I might as well be on Enceladus right now.
Scientists think there must be two internal heat sources
driving this icy volcanism on Enceladus.
One source could be radioactive elements
that decay and heat up the interior,
thereby keeping the water in a liquid state.
The second could be tidal heating.
Suppose Enceladus is like this squishy balloon.
Now Enceladus orbits Saturn in a slightly elliptical,
So sometimes it's closer to Saturn,
sometimes it's farther away.
When it's close to Saturn,
Saturn's gravitational pull
creates a greater tidal stretching of Enceladus
than when Enceladus is farther away.
That leads to a rubbing
of the interior materials
and a release of energy.
This tidal friction, as it's called,
helps melt the interior of Enceladus
and keep the water in this molten or partly molten state.
One mystery is,
how much water actually exists beneath the surface.
Could the miniature moon
be hiding an underground ocean?
We infer that there is a liquid ocean
because there needs to be a source of water to power these geysers.
The ocean may not extend
under the entire globe of Enceladus.
It may be just beneath these regions where the geysers are going off,
but there has to be
a significant reservoir of liquid water
beneath the surface of Enceladus.
If liquid water exists beneath the surface,
It could be teeming with organic molecules.
These, along with relatively warm temperatures,
are the essential ingredients for creating life.
It would be incredible
TV Series | The Universe | Contents page