Earth may display its seas on its surface for all the Universe to see, but further out in the Solar System liquid oceans are kept discreetly under wraps, hidden beneath cratered surfaces of ice and rock. And while Saturn’s moon Enceladus sprays its salty subsurface ocean out into space, other moons are less ostentatious — Europa, Ganymede, Titan… all are thought to have considerable underground oceans of liquid water, based on measurements of their mass, density, and shape.
Now, scientists are suggesting that Saturn’s 700-mile-wide moon Dione may also have a subsurface ocean… and may have even once exhibited icy geysers like its smaller sibling Enceladus.
Thanks to Cassini we’ve known about the jets of icy brine spraying from the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus for about 8 years now, but this week it was revealed at the 44th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference outside Houston, Texas that Enceladus’ jets very likely reach all the way down to the sea — a salty subsurface sea of liquid water that’s thought to lie beneath nearly 10 kilometers of ice.
“To touch the jets of Enceladus is to touch the most accessible salty, organic-rich, extraterrestrial body of water and, hence, habitable zone, in our solar system.”
– Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco
Enceladus, Saturn’s 318-mile-wide moon that’s become famous for its ice-spraying southern jets, is on astronomers’ short list of places in our own solar system where extraterrestrial life could be hiding — and on March 27, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was in just the right place to try and sniff it out.
Why does Cassini team director Carolyn Porco think Enceladus is THE place in the solar system where we are most likely to find life? Find out here.
Little Enceladus and enormous Titan are seen on either side of Saturn’s rings in this image, a color-composite I made from raw images acquired by Cassini on March 12, 2012.
On Saturday, Oct. 1, the Cassini spacecraft performed another flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Passing by at a distance of only 62 miles (99 km) Cassini took some fantastic images of the 318-mile-wide moon — most notably of its signature plumes of water ice spraying from fissures along its south pole!
Researchers on the Cassini mission team have identified large salt grains in the plumes emanating from Saturn’s icy satellite Enceladus, making an even stronger case for the existence of a salty liquid ocean beneath the moon’s frozen surface.
Scientists have uncovered a shocking surprise about Saturn’s ice-spewing satellite Enceladus: the little 318-mile-wide moon creates a loop of electrically-charged particles that run from its north and south poles all the way up and over to Saturn’s north and south poles, forming a giant electron beam connecting the gas planet and its icy moon. Where the electron particles connect with Saturn’s northern atmosphere astronomers have identified an ultraviolet “footprint”, about the size of the state of California. (A corresponding footprint near Saturn’s south pole has not yet been identified.)
Using Cassini data from 2008 this planet-moon connection has just recently been confirmed and published in the journals Nature and Geophysical Research Letters.