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Cassini Spacecraft Has Discovered a Huge Global Ocean Under the Surface of Saturn’s Moon, Enceladus

An enormous global ocean is hidden beneath the surface of Saturn’s sixth major moon, Enceladus, according to new study just publicized by NASA. NASA researchers made the discovery after observing that the magnitude of Enceladus’s minor wobble as it orbits Saturn is too big to be accounted for if the moon’s outer ice shell were firmly linked to its rocky inner core, as was earlier thought to be the case. The only clarification, says NASA, is that a continuous body of water lies in between the ice crust and the moon’s internal core.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Study co-author Matthew Tiscareno from the SETI Institute said in a statement “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. This proves that there must be a global layer of liquid separating the surface from the core.” The group studied more than seven years’ worth of images of Enceladus captures by the Cassini spacecraft, which has circled Saturn since 2004. They were able to spot the moon’s wobble by mapping structures such as craters on Enceladus’s exterior surface and tracking how their locations shifted as the moon revolved Saturn. These so-called librations were added into computer simulations, which negated the idea that such movements could be resolved with Enceladus having a solid, linked structure throughout.
It was just last year that NASA discovered hints of an ocean underneath the surface of Enceladus, even though at the time the scientists believed the underground body of water was restricted to the moon’s South Pole. Now we know it’s far more extensive than that, and that the water vapour trails and indication of hydrothermal activity originating from the moon’s surface are nurtured by this massive global ocean.

But why is this vast ocean underneath Enceladus surface not frozen? After all, it’s stuck between an inert rocky core and a frozen outer surface. The scientists aren’t completely certain, but plan to examine if the tidal forces halting from Saturn’s gravity are truly producing way more heat than previously expected, which could be what’s keeping everything liquid down under the surface.

In any situation, Enceladus is in good concern. It’s one of several ocean worlds out there in our Solar System – and few of these watery environments could possibly sustain life.

The study waspublished in Icarus.

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