Illustration of the interior of Saturn’s moon Enceladus showing a global liquid water ocean between its rocky core and icy crust. Thickness of layers shown here is not to scale. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A new analysis indicates that one of Saturn’s moons have a global ocean that lies beneath the icy crust and which could harbor life.

Enceladus has been long been thought to harbor water beneath a cold crust of ice and lately, scientists at NASA have studied the moon more carefully.

Orbit Provides Clues

They have reached the conclusion that the moon must harbor a single great ocean after having studied its orbit around Saturn.

Since its orbit reflects the mass of the planet and what its made off, the researchers looked a particular unevenness which is simply impossible to explain if the surface and the core of the moon is directly attached to each other.

“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 be,” said Matthew Tiscareno, a Cassini participating scientist at the SETI Institute, Mountain View, California, and a co-author of the paper. “This proves that there must be a global layer of liquid separating the surface from the core,” he said.

Plums of Water Wapor

Previously it was believed that the moon had a “lens-shaped” body of water at its south pole only, which would have been the source of the plumes of water vapor occasionally erupting.

These plumes were documented by NASA’s Cassini probe. This same probe then found traces of simple organic molecules when traveling through these plumes. Indicating that the moon may indeed harbor life.

Tidal Forces Keeps the Water Liquid

How the moon would harbor a liquid ocean could be explained the same way as for Jupiter’s moon Europa. Both are too small to be warm enough at their core, to keep the water liquid, but their close proximity to Saturn and Jupiter respectively might generate tidal forces.

“This was a hard problem that required years of observations, and calculations involving a diverse collection of disciplines, but we are confident we finally got it right,” said Peter Thomas, a Cassini imaging team member at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and lead author of the paper.

Be sure to check out the link below and article tags for more info on Enceladus and other water worlds in our solar system.

Cassini Finds Global Ocean in Saturn’s Moon Enceladus