Warm Ocean on Saturn Moon, Enceladus

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“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” said John Grunsfeld astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, according to www.nasa.gov. “The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the Universe.”

 

It is believed by many scientists that Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, has a liquid ocean below its rocky, icy surface. Hsiang-Wen Hsu, a planetary scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and his coworkers have recently found new evidence that support that it’s a heated ocean, according to www.npr.org.

 

Hsu and his team used the Cassini spacecraft, which orbits Saturn, to detect tiny particles of silica floating in space, according to www.npr.org. The silica particles could only be made if that ocean was heated.

 

“It’s a peculiar thing to find particles enriched with silicon,” said Hsu to www.latimes.com.

 

The team has calculated that Enceladus’s ocean has almost the same surface area as America’s Lake Superior, which is Earth’s second largest lake, reported www.space.com. Although they have also discovered that the ocean is much deeper than Lake Superior.

 

This new research, published in the journal Nature, builds upon the discovery of the moon’s 6-mile-deep ocean, which is also believed to contain many of the chemicals commonly associated with life,” stated www.popularmechanics.com.

 

The ocean appears to be approximately 190°F, which is cooler than most hydrothermal vents at the bottom of Earth’s oceans. Hsu says that the experiments on Earth also suggest the salinity is very similar to oceans on Earth, www.npr.org.

“It’s very hard to make silica in the Saturn system except if you have a warm wet environment,” says John Spencer, a researcher at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo, to www.npr.org.

There is no other known process besides hydrothermal activity that could make the particles of silica uniformly small, reported www.popularmechanics.com.

The location appears to only stay at the moon’s southern hemisphere, stretching only halfway up to its equator, according to www.space.com.

“It’s very exciting that we can use these tiny grains of rock, spewed into space by geysers, to tell us about conditions on — and beneath — the ocean floor of an icy moon, said the paper’s lead author Sean Hsu, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder,” according to www.nasa.gov.