NASA’s researchers now have confirmation that Enceladus’s surface hides a global ocean. Enceladus is Saturn’s sixth biggest moon, and the new finding has led field experts to wonder about the possibility of finding life on the space object.
New images from Cassini have revealed that the water underneath the icy moon’s surface spreads from one side of Enceladus to the other.
Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini imaging team from the Space Science Institute (Boulder, Colorado), visiting scholar with the University of California Berkeley, and co-author on the study, offered a statement stressing how important the finding truly is.
He explained that “This is a major step beyond what we understood about this moon before, and it demonstrates the kind of deep-dive discoveries we can make with long-lived orbiter missions to other planets”.
Even though earlier investigations of Enceladus managed to find evidence of deep reservoirs and icy geysers, this is the first study to find evidence of icy particles, a fine spray of water vapor, and simple organic molecules, all escaping from fractures close to Enceladus’ south pole. What this implies is that they are “being fed by this vast liquid water reservoir”.
The Cassini imaging team decided to take a closer look at Enceladus after throwing around theories as to why the moon wobbles in its orbit when circling Saturn. The team analyzed a large collection of mapped images, with some dating back more than a decade.
The results showed that the wobble is caused by two (2) things – Enceladus’ not quite spherical shape on one hand, and Saturn’s gravitational pull on the other.
And it also became the first study to prove that the ice moon’s ocean has global coverage.
Peter Thomas, member of the Cassini imaging team from Cornell University (New York City) and lead author on the new study, offered a statement of his own saying that “this was a hard problem”. In order for him and his team to solve it, they had to examine years of calculations and observations, covering a wild variety of disciplines.
But it was all worth it as the lead author and his team are convinced that they “finally got it right”.
The main question now is whether Enceladus hosted life in the past, is currently hosting life, or has the potential to host life if it were to be introduced.
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