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4 Apr

Hidden Ocean On Saturn Moon Enceladus Could Support Life

Pia18071_enceladus-interiorIt was just last month that waves were detected on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Now comes news that NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected signs of a sea beneath Enceladus, another Saturn moon, "furthering scientific interest in the moon as a potential home to extraterrestrial microbes."

The findings were published in the journal Science on April 4.

"The main implication is that there are potentially habitable environments in the solar system in places which are completely unexpected," said Luciano Iess, one of the study's authors, in a video. "Enceladus has a surface temperature of about minus 180 degrees Celsius, but under that surface there exists liquid water."

Space.com says the discovery "confirms suspicions many researchers have had about Enceladus since 2005, when NASA's Cassini spacecraft first spotted ice and water vapor spewing from fractures near the moon's south pole."

The six-mile-deep ocean is hidden beneath Enceladus' ice exterior, which may be as much as 19 to 25 miles thick and, according to NASA, makes Saturn's icy moon one of the "most likely places in our solar system to host microbial life."

"Material from Enceladus’ south polar jets contains salty water and organic molecules, the basic chemical ingredients for life," said Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker in a statement. "Their discovery expanded our view of the 'habitable zone' within our solar system and in planetary systems of other stars. This new validation that an ocean of water underlies the jets furthers understanding about this intriguing environment." 

Mars remains an intriguing candidate for life as evidence emerges that the red planet was once covered in water. It could have even had life before Earth did:

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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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