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Cassini discovers global ocean on Enceladus

Posted on Wednesday, 16 September, 2015 | Comment icon 14 comments

Enceladus possesses an ocean of liquid water beneath its surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL
Scientists are now confident that Saturn's icy moon is home to a subterranean ocean of liquid water.
Enceladus exhibits a slight wobble in its orbit that can only be explained if its outer shell and interior are not frozen together - something that strongly suggests the presence of a liquid ocean.

The discovery was made thanks to new research using data returned by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.

"This was a hard problem that required years of observations and calculations involving a diverse collection of disciplines, but we are confident we finally got it right," said scientist Peter Thomas.

More than seven years worth of data and photographs were used to study the moon's wobble.
"If the surface and core were rigidly connected, the core would provide so much dead weight the wobble would be far smaller than we observe it to be," said SETI's Matthew Tiscareno.

"This proves that there must be a global layer of liquid separating the surface from the core."

It still isn't clear what processes are stopping this ocean from freezing up however its existence opens up the door to the possibility that life may exist below the icy moon's surface.

"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," said Carolyn Porco from the Space Science Institute. "Cassini has been exemplary in this regard."

Source: Astronomy Magazine | Comments (14)

Tags: Saturn, Cassini, Enceladus

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #5 Posted by FTWind on 16 September, 2015, 22:32
What surprises me is that people didn't already think water was abundant through out the universe, being that hydrogen(1st) and oxygen(3rd) are some of the most abundant elements in the universe.
Comment icon #6 Posted by ShadowSot on 17 September, 2015, 1:58
We know water is common, finding it in liquid form has been the question.
Comment icon #7 Posted by DieChecker on 17 September, 2015, 2:27
Water, water everywhere... And doesn't it make you think..... Water, water everywhere.... For astronauts to drink...
Comment icon #8 Posted by FTWind on 17 September, 2015, 3:13
Is life more unlikely in oceans like this if the salt content is to high?
Comment icon #9 Posted by Astra- on 17 September, 2015, 4:35
Water, water everywhere... And doesn't it make you think..... Water, water everywhere.... For astronauts to drink... Although it's made of wouldn't taste so nice.Astronauts could melt it.....using a heating device.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Yes_Man on 17 September, 2015, 7:20
It's a simple, stable molecule of two abundant atoms. It would be a surprise, chemically speaking, if it wasn't common. The difficult trick is finding it in liquid form, although even that seems more common than was dreamt of just a few years ago. Why do moons tend to have frozen surfaces than planets?
Comment icon #11 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 17 September, 2015, 7:51
Why do moons tend to have frozen surfaces than planets? These moons are distant from the sun and therefore cold and frozen. The planets they orbit are all gas giants which have no real surface to freeze. If there was an Earth like planet at Jupiter's distance, or beyond, it would have a frozen surface too.
Comment icon #12 Posted by DieChecker on 18 September, 2015, 4:10
To add to what Waspie said. They (The frozen moons/asteroids/dwarf planets also mostly lack atmosphere, so what heat gets to the surface is not held back. I wonder if the Earth's Moon was covered in water, if it too would be frozen over. I suspect it would.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 18 September, 2015, 7:32
I wonder if the Earth's Moon was covered in water, if it too would be frozen over. I suspect it would. Absolutely not. The Moon is too close to the Sun. During day light the temperature on the lunar surface can reach 123 oC (253oF). Having no atmosphere means that any water ice would not melt as it warmed, it would sublime (that is change state directly from a solid to a gas without passing through the liquid stage). The Moon is too small to retain an atmosphere and that includes water vapour. Rather than freezing any water on the lunar surface would boil off into space. The exception to the a... [More]
Comment icon #14 Posted by highdesert50 on 18 September, 2015, 13:10
The abundance of galactic water certainly makes for an interesting speculative argument for some parallelism in the comparable evolution of primitive biological lifeforms.

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