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Partitioning of crystalline and amorphous phases during freezing of simulated Enceladus ocean fluids

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Abstract

Saturn's ice‐covered moon Enceladus may contain the requisite conditions for life. Its potentially habitable subsurface ocean is vented into space as large cryovolcanic plumes that can be sampled by spacecraft, acting as a window to the ocean below. However, little is known about how Enceladus’ ocean fluids evolve as they freeze. Using cryo‐imaging techniques, we investigated solid phases produced by freezing simulated Enceladean ocean fluids at endmember cooling rates. Our results show that under flash‐freezing conditions (>10 K s−1), Enceladus‐relevant fluids undergo segregation, whereby the precipitation of ice templates the formation of brine vein networks. The high solute concentrations and confined nature of these brine veins means that salt crystallization is kinetically inhibited and glass formation (vitrification) can occur at lower cooling rates than typically required for vitrification of a bulk solution. Crystalline salts also form if flash‐frozen fluids are re‐warmed. The 10 µm‐scale distribution of salt phases produced by this mechanism differs markedly from that of gradually cooled (∼1 K min−1) fluids, showing that they inherit a textural signature of their formation conditions. The mineralogy of cryogenic carbonates can be used as a probe for cooling rate and parent fluid pH. Our findings reveal possible endmember routes for solid phase production from Enceladus’ ocean fluids and mechanisms for generating compositional heterogeneity within ice particles on a sub‐10 µm scale. This has implications for understanding how Enceladus' ocean constituents are incorporated into icy particles and delivered to space.
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Details

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JE006628
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Volume126
Issue number1
Early online date6 Jan 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Jan 2021

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