The team, including Christopher Glein from the Carnegie Mellon University, has revealed the pH of water spewing from a geyser-like plume on Saturn's moon Enceladus.

The pH tells us how acidic or basic the water is. Enceladus is geologically active and thought to have a liquid water ocean beneath its icy surface. "Knowledge of the pH improves our understanding of geochemical processes in Enceladus' 'soda ocean,'" Glein explained.

The hidden ocean is the presumed source of the plume of water vapour and ice that the Cassini spacecraft has observed venting from the moon's south polar region. Whenever there's the possibility of liquid water on another planetary body, scientists begin to ask whether or not it could support life.

The present team, including lead author Glein and John Baross of the University of Washington, developed a new chemical model based on mass spectrometry data of ice grains and gases in Enceladus' plume gathered by Cassini, in order to determine the pH of Enceladus' ocean.

The team's model shows that the plume, and by inference the ocean, is salty with an alkaline pH of about 11 or 12, which is similar to that of glass-cleaning solutions of ammonia.

It contains the same sodium chloride salt as our oceans here on the Earth. Its additional substantial sodium carbonate makes the ocean more similar to our planet's soda lakes such as Mono Lake in California or Lake Magadi in Kenya. The scientists refer to it as a "soda ocean."

Their work was published in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.


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