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Space Seas: Saturn’s Moon Enceladus has a Liquid Ocean Under the Ice

Bust out your 31 mile ice augers, all you space ice fishermen: Readings from the Cassini space craft indicate that there is a massive reservoir of of water hiding deep beneath the icy crust of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Cassini’s readings have told us that this ocean is located on the southern hemisphere of the moon, and is at least as big as Lake Superior. Cassini’s observations also indicate that there is a thick 31 miles of ice before the water turns liquid. Scientists suspect the liquid ocean may not be limited to polar area, saying that it could go as far north as halfway to Enceladus’ equator.

As Cassini made three passes around Enceladus between 2010 and 2012, it beamed back readings on how much gravitational pull it was experiencing from the moon. What researchers found was that the gravitational readings from the two passes Cassini made at Enceladus’ south pole were significantly different form those made at the north pole. Specifically, gravity in this southern region was far stronger than expected, meaning that something dense was hiding underneath it. Researchers decided that this denser material must be water.

Enceladus IP 2

We have long known about Enceladus’ water vapor geysers. These are now thought to be sourced by the massive body of liquid water underneath the ice (NASA/JPL)

Like our own seas here on Earth, it seems that the ocean hiding under Enceladus’ ice is salty. We know this because on one of Cassini’s flybys, the craft took a sample of water vapor spewing out of fissures in the moon’s south pole in massive geysers. Even more reminiscent of our own oceans, the samples Cassini collected also contained organic molecules – the chemical building blocks of life.

So now we have two alien moons with oceans hiding under ice, Enceladus and Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. Which one of these do you think has a better shot at supporting life? And more importantly could those life forms look like this!? Tell us below.

HT: DiscoveryNews, Los Angeles Times

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