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Microbial Component Detection in Enceladus Snowing Phenomenon

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Enceladus is an attractive place to look for signs of life thanks to liquid water and the availability of energy. Recent research has proven that the ejected material of Enceladus south pole consists of water vapor, water ice, carbon dioxide, methane and molecular hydrogen. Possible similarities of physical and chemical conditions between Enceladus ocean bottom and the carbonate mineral matrix of actively venting chimneys of the Lost City Hydrothermal Field give an opportunity to create a mathematical model of microbial ascent process through the ice shell. In this study we present first results of particle in-cell kinetic simulations of microbial distance through 10 km deep ocean. We have obtained results for microbial component—Methanosarcinales sp. analogue—characterized by 6.6 pg mass and 2.0 μm diameter distribution in Enceladus plumes. We have assumed 0.1 W m−2 heating process, 5 km ice shell and cells concentration near ocean bottom 105 cells/mL. We have confirmed assumption of Porco research team about cells concentration near ocean surface about 104 cells/mL and vertical density diversity in plumes. We have found that the optimal altitude for microbial component detection is less than 1.0 km and that in-situ measurements done previously by Cassini mass spectrometer and proposed for Enceladus Orbiter mission 50 km altitude would be ineffective.

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This research was supported by the Institute of Aviation. We thank our colleagues from Remote Sensing Division who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted the research. We thank Prof. Romana Ratkiewicz and Wojciech Konior for assistance with particle-in-cell simulations.

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Correspondence to J. Kotlarz.

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Kotlarz, J., Zielenkiewicz, U., Zalewska, N.E. et al. Microbial Component Detection in Enceladus Snowing Phenomenon. Astrophys. Bull. 75, 166–175 (2020).

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