The Saturn moon Enceladus harbors a big ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust that may be capable of supporting life as we know it, a new study reports.
The water ocean on Enceladus is about 6 miles (10 kilometers) deep and lies beneath a shell of ice 19 to 25 miles (30 to 40 km) thick, researchers said. Further, it's in direct contact with a rocky seafloor, theoretically making possible all kinds of complex chemical reactions — such as, perhaps, the kind that led to the rise of life on Earth.
"The main implication is that there are potentially habitable environments in the solar system in places which are completely unexpected," study lead author Luciano Iess said in a video about the discovery produced by his home institution, Sapienza University in Rome. "Enceladus has a surface temperature of about minus 180 degrees Celsius [minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit], but under that surface there is liquid water." [Photos: Enceladus, Saturn's Cold, Bright Moon]
The new finding, which is published online today (April 3) in the journal Science, doesn't exactly come out of left field. Rather, it confirms suspicions many researchers have had about Enceladus since 2005, when NASA's Cassini spacecraft first spotted ice and water vapor spewing from fractures near the moon's south pole.
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