Researchers say they have identified an underground body of water that is as large as North America’s Lake Superior, on a small moon of Saturn, called Enceladus. The water is hidden beneath nearly 25 miles of ice!
The ocean was found at the south pole of the tiny moon. The moon itself is about as wide as the state of Arizona, ranking the moon among with the likes of Saturn’s Titan and Jupiter’s Europa. Coincidentally, they are also believed to hold larger amounts of water beneath frozen ice. In 2005 researchers detected plumes of water vapour ejecting from long fractures in Enceladus’ surface known as tiger stripes.
This research was led by Luciano Less from the Sapienza University of Rome “This moon was believed to be geologically inactive — essentially a dead body…the fact that there are these geysers which eject more than a hundred kilometres over the surface was surprising,” Less said.
Less and his fellow colleagues have determined the presence of liquid water while looking into a gravitational anomaly located around Enceladus’ south-pole region. The team noticed that there was not enough mass at the surface to account for the gravity they were detecting; some mass appeared to be missing, so they knew that something denser must also be present. Because liquid water is denser than ice, its occurrence is able to explain and correct the measured anomaly. These results are being published in the journal; Science.
The data was based on data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has been traversing Saturn’s moons for approximately a decade now. This information has seen an unexpected turn for Enceladus, which at the beginning of Cassini’s mission was seen as an uninteresting subject to pursue. The Cassini spacecraft mission was supposed to end in 2008, but it’s been extended twice since, first to 2010 and now until 2017. “When you go to visit a planet you have to make up time for unexpected findings and further investigations of these findings…Luckily, Cassini was extended and we had the opportunity to dig a little bit deeper into the interior structure of the body,” Less said.
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[Image via scitechdaily]