Watery Ocean On Enceladus Makes It A Prime Candidate For Alien Life

Thursday, 03 April 2014 - 6:42PM
Astrobiology
Alien Life
Thursday, 03 April 2014 - 6:42PM
Watery Ocean On Enceladus Makes It A Prime Candidate For Alien Life

Scientists today confirmed that Saturn's moon Enceladus possesses a vast salt water ocean beneath its frozen surface, a discovery that has led to the small moon becoming the prime candidate for hosting alien life within our solar system. The discovery was made using data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which revealed a vast ocean that researchers estimate to be upwards of 10km deep.

 

Perhaps the most exciting component of this discovery is the fact that the salty ocean is thought to come into direct contact with the moon's rocky underbelly. In theory, this direct contact with Enceladus's rocky core allows some key building blocks for life to be released into the ocean. With the water rubbing up against the core, the likes of Phosphorous and Potassium would be able to enter the ocean, thus greatly increasing the chance of it harboring life.

 

This latest piece of big news follows Cassini's 2005 discovery of water plumes emanating from Enceladus's south pole. The existence of these plumes gave scientists confidence that liquid water existed beneath the moon's icy surface, but the extent of the water that has now been discovered must be beyond the wildest dreams of most people in the business.

 

Using data from one of Cassini's close fly-bys of the small moon, a team from Sapienza University in Rome concluded that a significant body of liquid water existed in the south pole of Enceladus.

 

"The Cassini gravity measurements show a negative gravity anomaly at the south pole that however is not as large as expected from the deep depression detected by the onboard camera," said Lucian Iess, the lead author on the Sapienza team.  "Hence the conclusion that there must be a denser material at depth that compensates the missing mass: very likely liquid water, which is seven percent denser than ice. The magnitude of the anomaly gave us the size of the water reservoir."

 

At just 300 miles in diameter, Enceladus is tiny in comparison to many of the planetary bodies in our solar system. However, it would appear that what this tiny ice moon lacks for in size, it 100% makes up for in exciting potential.

 

To hear more from the lead author of the paper that announced this discovery, check out the video above. To read NASA's take on yet another big notch on Cassini's belt, click here.

Science
Space
Astrobiology
Alien Life