Geophysical data from the Cassini spacecraft imply the presence of a global ocean underneath the ice shell of Enceladus 1 , only a few kilometres below the surface in the South Polar Terrain 2–4 . Chemical analyses indicate that the ocean is salty 5 and is fed by ongoing hydrothermal activity 6–8 . In order to explain these observations, an abnormally high heat power (>20 billion watts) is required, as well as a mechanism to focus endogenic activity at the south pole 9,10 . Here, we show that more than 10 GW of heat can be generated by tidal friction inside the unconsolidated rocky core. Water transport in the tidally heated permeable core results in hot narrow upwellings with temperatures exceeding 363 K, characterized by powerful (1–5 GW) hotspots at the seafloor, particularly at the south pole. The release of heat in narrow regions favours intense interaction between water and rock, and the transport of hydrothermal products from the core to the plume sources. We are thus able to explain the main global characteristics of Enceladus: global ocean, strong dissipation, reduced ice-shell thickness at the south pole and seafloor activity. We predict that this endogenic activity can be sustained for tens of millions to billions of years.
Nature Astronomy – Springer Journals
Published: Nov 6, 2017
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