On understanding the physics and source conditions of the Enceladus South Polar Plume via numerical simulation
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Enceladus, a tiny moon of Saturn, is found to be geologically active. In 2005, Cassini detected an anomalously warm region and a plume, consisting of mostly water vapor and ice grains, at its south pole. The plume has far-reaching effects on the Saturnian system and offers clues into the moon’s interior, particularly as to whether liquid water exists underground. Consequently, understanding the physics and source conditions of the plume is crucial, which is the focus of this work. The plume is not only two-phase but also multi-regime in nature and can be divided into three distinct regions: a subsurface region, a collisional near-field and a free-molecular far-field. To study it, a hybrid model of the plume, which treats each region separately, is constructed. Two subsurface models are considered. Using the resulting vent conditions from these models, the plume is propagated from the surface vents out to several Enceladus radii using the direct simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) method in the near-field and a free-molecular model in the far-field. The model is used to examine the plume flow, with and without grains. Collisions are found to be important in various processes, including grain condensation and flow acceleration. Since collision rates drop away from the vent, they must be high enough at the vent to enable significant condensation to occur and the gas to accelerate to the maximum speed possible by allowing energy stored in internal modes to be converted into translational energy as the gas expands. When slower grains are present, however, they may decelerate and push the gas out more laterally. Moreover, grains may form a thick column and restrict the free expansion of the gas. Smaller grains have greater and more extensive effects on the gas, but are also more strongly affected by the gas. Their motions decouple from the gas motions higher above the vent. They are also more likely to spread with the gas and be accelerated to the gas speeds. By constraining the plume far-field using Cassini data, the H2O and grain production rates from the plume are estimated to be ~100–1000 kg/s and < 10 kg/s respectively, which agree with other estimates. Based on fit results, the gas jets appear to be narrow, suggesting high Mach numbers at the vents.