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Collecting amino acids in the Enceladus plume

  • Melissa Guzman (a1), Ralph Lorenz (a2), Dana Hurley (a2), William Farrell (a3), John Spencer (a4), Candice Hansen (a5), Terry Hurford (a3), Jassmine Ibea (a6), Patrick Carlson (a7) and Christopher P. McKay (a1)...

We numerically model the dynamics of the Enceladus plume ice grains and define our nominal plume model as having a particle size distribution n(R) ~ R −q with q = 4 and a total particulate mass rate of 16 kg s−1. This mass rate is based on average plume brightness observed by Cassini across a range of orbital positions. The model predicts sample volumes of ~1600 µg for a 1 m2 collector on a spacecraft making flybys at 20–60 km altitudes above the Enceladus surface. We develop two scenarios to predict the concentration of amino acids in the plume based on these assumed sample volumes. We specifically consider Glycine, Serine, α-Alanine, α-Aminoisobutyric acid and Isovaline. The first ‘abiotic’ model assumes that Enceladus has the composition of a comet and finds abundances between 2 × 10−6 to 0.003 µg for dissolved free amino acids and 2 × 10−5 to 0.3 µg for particulate amino acids. The second ‘biotic’ model assumes that the water of Enceladus's ocean has the same amino acid composition as the deep ocean water on Earth. We compute the expected captured mass of amino acids such as Glycine, Serine, and α-Alanine in the ‘biotic’ model to be between 1 × 10−5 to 2 × 10−5 µg for dissolved free amino acids and dissolved combined amino acids and about 0.0002 µg for particulate amino acids. Both models consider enhancements due to bubble bursting. Expected captured mass of amino acids is calculated for a 1 m2 collector on a spacecraft making flybys with a closest approach of 20 km during mean plume activity for the given nominal particle size distribution.

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Author for correspondence: Melissa Guzman, E-mail:
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