Orbiting a gas giant that is over a billion kilometers away from the Sun, settlers upon Saturn’s moon Enceladus do not have the option of powering future outposts via solar panels (as sunlight is rather faint at that distance).

While future colonists could always break down water ice into hydrogen and oxygen, it might be wiser for residents to establish geothermal power plants upon Enceladus’s surface instead.

Data from Cassini’s composite infrared spectrometer of Enceladus’ south polar terrain, which is marked by linear fissures, indicate that the internal heat-generated power is about 15.8 gigawatts, approximately 2.6 times the power output of all the hot springs in the Yellowstone region, or comparable to 20 coal-fueled power stations. This is more than an order of magnitude higher than scientists had predicted, according to Carly Howett, the lead author of study, who is a postdoctoral researcher at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and a composite infrared spectrometer science team member. […]

It has been known since 2005 that Enceladus’ south polar terrain is geologically active and the activity is centered on four roughly parallel linear trenches, 130 kilometers (80 miles) long and about 2 kilometers (1 mile) wide, informally known as the “tiger stripes.” Cassini also found that these fissures eject great plumes of ice particles and water vapor continually into space. These trenches have elevated temperatures due to heat leaking out of Enceladus’ interior. (Astrobiology Magazine)

Since Enceladus’s orbits within Saturn’s radiation belts, residents will need a way to power their artificial magnetic fields in order to avoid being microwaved by the sixth planet from the Sun.

Establishing several geothermal power plants upon the surface could help a future outpost not only power the technology required for their survival, but help them avoid relying upon non-renewable nuclear reactors (or even frequent methane shipments from Titan).

Image: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, shows how the south polar terrain of Saturn’s moon Enceladus emits much more power than scientists had originally predicted.

Credit: NASA / JPL / SWRI / SSI

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