Saturn Moon Has Ocean That Could Support Life, Study Says

Apr 03, 2014 03:40 PM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

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Scientists have found evidence that Enceladus, an icy moon orbiting Saturn, has an ocean about the size of Lake Superior, according to a study published in the journal .

While the moon's surface temperature is -180 degrees Celsius, or -292 degrees Fahrenheit, tidal forces could be creating enough heat to flex and melt the ice, making an ocean of liquid water below the surface, reported.

Researchers estimate that the ocean is in a 6-mile layer between ice and rock, lying around 25 miles below the moon's surface.

Jupiter's Europa is the only moon known in the Milky Way where liquid and rock have this kind of , which scientists believe could result in chemistry that creates life. Tiny Enceladus, a moon that could fit inside the state of Arizona, could be habitable or even be supporting extraterrestrial life now, researchers say.

"The main implication of our work is that there are potentially habitable environments in our solar system that are entirely unexpected," said lead author Luciano Iess, an aerospace engineer at the Sapienza University of Rome, as quoted by National Geographic.

In 2005, the Cassini-Huygens mission capturing images that showed jets of salt water shooting out from the moon's south pole. Scientists studied the gravitational pull of Enceladus during later flybys between 2010 and 2012, working with how the field of gravity varies based on the density and amount of ground or liquid on the moon's surface.

"To get our data, we had to detect exquisitely small changes in motion with a pretty impressive precision," said co-author David Stevenson, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, as quoted by National Geographic. "That was new, but the rest of the story of how to understand masses from our data is basically Newton's laws of motion."

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