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old faithful model for radiolytic gas-driven cryovolcanism at enceladusA new model is presented on how chemically driven cryovolcanism might contribute to episodic outgassing at the icy moon Enceladus and potentially elsewhere including Europa and Kuiper Belt Objects. Exposed water ices can become oxidized from radiolytic chemical alteration of near-surface water ice by space environment irradiation. In contact with primordially abundant reductants such as NH3, CH4, and other hydrocarbons, the product oxidants can react exothermically to produce volatile gases driving cryovolcanism via gas-piston forces on any subsurface liquid reservoirs. Radiolytic oxidants such as H2O2 and O2 can continuously accumulate deep in icy regoliths and be conveyed by rheological flows to subsurface chemical reaction zones over million-year time scales indicated by cratering ages for active regions of Enceladus and Europa. Surface blanketing with cryovolcanic plume ejecta would further accelerate regolith burial of radiolytic oxidants. Episodic heating from transient gravitational tides, radioisotope decay, impacts, or other geologic events might occasionally accelerate chemical reaction rates and ignite the exothermic release of cumulative radiolytic oxidant energy. The time history for the suggested "Old Faithful" model of radiolytic gas-driven cryovolcanism at Enceladus and elsewhere therefore consists of long periods of chemical energy accumulation punctuated by much briefer episodes of cryovolcanic activity. The most probable sequence for detection of activity in the current epoch is a long evolutionary phase of slow but continuous oxidant accumulation over billions of years followed by continuous but variable high activity over the past 10(exp 7)-10(exp 8) years. Detectable cryovolcanic activity could then later decline due to near-total oxidation of the rheologically accessible ice crust and depletion the accessible reductant abundances, as may have already occurred for Europa in the more intense radiation environment of Jupiter's magnetosphere. Astrobiological potential of Enceladus could correspondingly be higher than at Europa due to a less extreme state of oxidation and greater residual abundance of organics.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
Cooper, John F.
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Cooper, Paul D.
(George Mason Univ. Fairfax, VA, United States)
Sittler, Edward
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Sturner, Steven J.
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Rymer, Abigail M.
(Johns Hopkins Univ. Laurel, MD, United States)
Date Acquired
August 25, 2013
Publication Date
November 1, 2009
Publication Information
Publication: Planetary and Space Science
Volume: 57
Issue: 13
Subject Category
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits