Europa, one of Jupiter’s roughly 66 moons, was considered to be one of the likeliest spots for finding life, even if only in microbial form, in the whole solar system. Now, it looks like Enceladus, one of Saturn’s 66 confirmed moons, has taken the top spot.
Data recently captured and analyzed from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft suggests that Enceladus has a pretty sizable ocean hidden beneath the moon’s icy exterior. While this isn’t a new theory, recent evidence uncovered by the spacecraft makes the possibility even more likely.
For many years, scientists believed that an ocean of some sort existed on Enceladus–the moon is almost entirely covered in ice, so scientists thought there must be a body of water somewhere beneath all that ice, where the conditions were just right to have liquid water.
Going by the latest data from Cassini, it looks like they were right. The spacecraft was able to observe icy fissures running along a large area of the moon, bolstering another theory that underneath Enceladus’ surface are active “ice” volcanoes, which could keep water beneath the surface cool enough to stay in liquid form.
The spacecraft was able to take samples from the debris ejected by geysers around the fissures, and what NASA discovered was water that is very similar in composition to our own, adding further evidence that liquid water likely exists on Enceladus–and the volcanic activity, and thus the liquid water, is all thanks to Saturn’s gravitational pull
“This new work gives scientists insight into the mechanics of these picturesque jets,” said Terry Hurford, a Cassini associate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (via Time). “[It] shows that Saturn really stresses Enceladus.”