Home Front Page Stunning new research finds Saturn’s moon Enceladus may have a warm ocean

Stunning new research finds Saturn’s moon Enceladus may have a warm ocean

Scientists have found yet another candidate for supporting life in our own solar system: Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, which may have a warm subsurface ocean.

New research from the University of Colorado Boulder and scientists from NASA’s Cassini mission indicate that tiny grains of rock that were detected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft near Saturn show that hydrothermal activity may be happening deep beneath the icy surface of Enceladus, according to Sean Hsu, the lead researcher for the university’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, who was quoted in a USA Today report.

Those microscopic grains probably came from the chemical reactions between rocks and hot water, and they probably happened recently, according to the report. The water would have needed to have been 190 degrees Fahrenheit at least to cause that kind of reaction.

Enceladus is a tiny celestial body — just a third of the size of our own moon. It also has a thick, icy surface, but this new evidence suggests that there may be some vibrant hydrothermal activity happening underneath the surface. This surprised scientists, who though Enceladus was inactive, and the finding indicates that scientists still have a lot to learn about our solar system and can’t make assumptions about certain planets, Hsu said.

The findings indicate that it is another candidate for study by scientists to find living organisms somewhere within our solar system.

Another prime possibility is Mars, and that remains the prime target for scientists with rovers and satellites exploring its surface — and potentially a manned mission sometime in the future — and its proximity and fairly hospitable environment (at least for robots) makes it much easier to explore than other candidates. Although scientists don’t believe life exists there now, they think that oceans once covered a large part of the surface of Mars many years ago and could have led to the development of microbial life.

Another possibility is another Saturn moon, Titan, a much bigger body that scientists recently postulated could have hosted methane-based life forms.

Enceladus is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, and it is just a tenth of the size of Titan. It was first observed by the Voyager spacecraft that flew by in the early 1980s, which found that its diameter was only 310 miles. The Cassini spacecraft started conducting close flybys of Enceladus in 2005, providing more detail on the moon to scientists back on Earth.