If there is water there could be life.
And that is what has the science world buzzing about the discovery of a vast ocean beneath the icy surface of Saturn’s little moon Enceladus.
A team of Italian and American researchers uncovered the body of water using Cassini, a NASA-European spacecraft still exploring Saturn. Cassini was launched 17 years ago from NASA’s Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Researchers are saying the new ocean of liquid water is as big as or even bigger than North America’s Lake Superior and is centered at the south pole of the tiny moon.
This latest discovery makes the interior of Enceladus “a very attractive potential place to look for life,” said Cornell University planetary scientist Jonathan Lunine, who took part in the study.
Back in 2005, Cassini detected a plume streaming from cracks in the south polar region. Scientists suspected these jets of salty water vapor and ice — containing some light organic molecules like methane — might come from a subsurface ocean. On Thursday, they confirmed its presence. Their findings appear in the journal Science.
Cassini provided gravity measurements from three close fly-bys of Enceladus from 2010 to 2012. The Doppler data indicated a dense material beneath the surface of the south pole, most likely liquid water.
The ocean is believed to be sandwiched between miles of surface ice and a rocky core.
“It’s extraordinary what Cassini has been able to do for this small moon,” California Institute of Technology’s David Stevenson, part of the research team, told reporters this week. But “this is not like mapping the surface of the Earth or mapping the surface of the moon, it’s nothing like that. It’s much cruder, and it’s amazing that we’ve been able to do as much as we can.”
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