Saturn’s Moon Enceladus May Have Warm Ocean, Boosting Likelihood Of Life On Icy Satellite

enceladus plumes

Scientists have found yet another tantalizing clue that Saturn’s moon Enceladus may have the potential to host alien life: Hot springs.

Yes, new research reveals the first clear evidence that there could be hydrothermal activity in the icy moon’s underground ocean.

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Dramatic plumes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, as seen by the Cassini probe during its flyby in 2009.

enceladus warm ocean
A deep subsurface ocean is thought to exist at the south pole of Enceladus, below a thick ice crust. This artist’s impression shows hydrothermal activity on the ocean floor.

“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus … could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” John Grunsfeld, an astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C., said in a written statement issued by the agency. “The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the universe.”

Tiny grains yield their secrets. For the research, an international team of scientists analyzed data on microscopic grains of rock, which were spewed into space by Enceladus’s geysers and collected by NASA’s Cassini space probe’s cosmic dust analyzer (CDA) instrument.

The analysis, along with computer simulations and experiments in the lab, suggested that the silica grains were formed in Enceladus’s vast ocean. Scientists discovered this ocean, which is at least as big as North America’s Lake Superior, last April.

According to the new hypothesis, minerals from Enceladus’s rocky core dissolved in hot water near the seafloor — estimated to be around 194 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius). As the hot water rose toward the ocean’s surface, it cooled, causing the minerals to condense into the tiny silica grains — just like the ones found in sand and —> Read More