Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, hosts under its icy shell a ‘global’ ocean much larger than scientists have previously determined, according to the freshly collected data from the Cassini Solstice Mission.
Researchers observed that Enceladus had a slight wobble on its surface. This can only occur if the planet’s core is not completely frozen, meaning that water must be present under the planet’s ice surface.
“If the surface and core were rigidly connected, the core would provide so much dead weight that the wobble would be far smaller than we observe it to be. This proves that there must be a global layer of liquid separating the the surface from the core,” explained scientist Matthew Tiscareno, from the SETI Institute (SETI = search for extraterrestrial intelligence).
Based on previously collected data, researchers suspected the existence of a sea located at the south pole region of the moon. Icy particles and water vapours have been spotted gushing out of the surface cracks near the south pole of Enceladus.
Cassini managed to collect data regarding the moon’s gravity which reinforced the possibility that the sea might in fact be global and not regional, scientists said.
The new images taken from the Cassini probe confirm the scientists’ suspicions. Peter Thomas, an Imaging Team Member at the Cornell University, New York, said that although collecting all the necessary data took years of observation, scientists are now positive that they finally got all the answers they needed.
The images of Enceladus were taken during a seven-year period of time. The Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn as early as 2004.
After analysing all the images, scientists mapped things such as craters on Enceladus’ surface in order to observe any possible changes that might have occurred throughout the years. They found the following result: a small wobble on the planet’s surface as it orbited Saturn. The wobble was linked to massive amount of water under Enceladus’ surface.
The findings are very important, because they make us think whether there is a chance that Enceladus could become a habitable world in the future.
As of now, European ans US space agency are not planing to dedicate an entire mission to Enceladus. Probes will only be sent to Jupiter in the near future.
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