Signs of underground ocean found on Saturn moon

Updated 12:17 PM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014

Story highlights

Enceladus is a small moon of Saturn

New data suggest a subsurface ocean under its south pole

Gravity experiment inferred that there must be liquid water there

Miles of ice likely cover a subsurface ocean that itself is 5 to 10 miles deep

CNN —  

An ocean at least as large as Lake Superior lies below a thick layer of ice on a moon of Saturn, new data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft suggests.

The results, published in the journal Science, support earlier signs that this small moon has liquid water. That means Saturn’s sixth-largest moon could have been – or could now be – hospitable to life.

This discovery puts Enceladus in an exclusive club of extraterrestrial worlds in the solar system that appear to have a subsurface water ocean. The others are Titan, another moon of Saturn, and Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Callisto and Ganymede, also moons of Jupiter, may also have oceans under ice.

“As far as whether one should go first to Europa or Enceladus, I look at this as a kind of a cornucopia of habitable environments in the outer solar system,” study co-author Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University said in a press conference Wednesday.

What we think is there

The north pole of Enceladus has a thickness of ice around 30 miles, with solid rock beneath it. But at the south pole, there may be only 18 to 24 miles of ice covering a subsurface ocean that itself is 5 to 10 miles deep.