Icy Worlds

Icy Ocean Worlds, Plumes, And Tasting The Water

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
Meteoritics & Planetary Science
March 27, 2024
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Icy Ocean Worlds, Plumes, And Tasting The Water
Sizes and densities of potential icy ocean worlds, compared to the Earth (image source: NASA).

This paper considers how space missions that fly through the plumes known, or suspected, to erupt naturally from some icy ocean worlds (IOW), such as Enceladus, or that aim to intercept icy ejecta from impact cratering processes on such bodies can sample the water and ice within the plumes.

The mechanics of how grains (either in the plumes or the ejecta) would interact with a passing spacecraft (i.e., impact speeds, shock pressures, etc.) are introduced. The impact speeds are estimated and vary with both the mass of the IOW and the orbital parameters of a space mission.

This can lead to large differences in impact speeds (and hence collection methods) at bodies such as Enceladus and Europa. The implications of these different impact speeds (a few hundred m s−1 to several km s−1, and even greater than 10 km s−1) for the collection of organic materials from the plumes are shown to be significant.

Icy ocean worlds, plumes, and tasting the water, Meteoritics & Planetary Science (open access)


Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻