The quest for interstellar water is still underway, and if you're keeping tally, there are a lot of planets that could have water on them. Unfortunately most are too far away for us to study and accurately determine if they are hospitable for humans.
But a new body of water has been found not light-years away from us, but right in our theoretical backyard. There’s also something else amazing about the body of water; it’s found underground on a moon, not on a planet. Meet Enceladus, a possible place for life (or at the very least, a water reservoir).
Saturn’s moon Enceladus, along with Saturn, its other moons and Saturn’s mysterious rings, has been studied for the past 10 years. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has given us some amazing images of spouting geysers on Enceladus’ south pole. Of course, if there are geysers, then there must be water, right? The Cassini spacecraft went to check it out. After three orbits, the probe determined that Enceladus’ south pole had more gravitational pull than the moon’s surface suggested.
Scientists studying the moon decided that the difference in gravitational pull comes from a huge underground ocean. The ocean is estimated at being about the size of Lake Superior (350 miles across) and and is probably 18 to 24 miles below the surface. In relation to the size of Enceladus itself – the diameter is a little over 300 miles – the body of water is quite enormous.
So how did the ocean form? From Saturn’s own gravity, which causes the moon to distort as it orbits Saturn, resulting in the forming of the ocean. The planet’s forces are also responsible for the moon’s geysers and the “tiger stripe” fractures.
So could the moon become a new Earth? As with all news about planets with water, scientists must find out more about the moon to really determine if it can sustain human life. Until then, we have yet another “possible” planet in the search for new galactic real estate.
We have been searching for a new life-sustaining planet for a while, but it seems like the pace has increased the more we learn about our universe. Could a ready-to-live-on planet be out there? Will we have to terraform a planet that has water but nothing else for human life? Science will let us know in due time.
What do you think about the water found in subterranean Enceladus? Would you love to live on this moon if the science allowed for it, or would you rather just live out your days on Earth? Discuss below in the comments section!
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech, Flickr