Joule heating of the south polar terrain on Enceladus

K. P. Hand, K. K. Khurana, C. F. Chyba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


We report that Joule heating in Enceladus, resulting from the interaction of Enceladus with Saturn's magnetic field, may account for 150 kW to 52 MW of power through Enceladus. Electric currents passing through subsurface channels of low salinity and just a few kilometers in depth could supply a source of power to the south polar terrain, providing a small but previously unaccounted for contribution to the observed heat flux and plume activity. Studies of the electrical heating of Jupiter's moon Europa have concluded that electricity is a negligible heating source since no connection between the conductive subsurface and Alfvén currents has been observed. Here we show that, contrary to results for the Jupiter system, electrical heating may be a source of internal energy for Enceladus, contributing to localized heating, production of water vapor, and the persistence of the "tiger stripes." This contribution is of order 0.001-0.25% of the total observed heat flux, and thus, Joule heating cannot explain the total south polar terrain heat anomaly. The exclusion of salt ions during refreezing serves to enhance volumetric Joule heating and could extend the lifetime of liquid water fractures in the south polar terrain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberE04010
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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