Cassini Explores Salty Ocean on Icy Saturn Moon Enceladus
Saturn's moons are some of the most intriguing bodies within the Solar System. The NASA Cassini spacecraft continues to explore the region, revealing astonishing findings along the way.
Aside from Titan, which is believed to possess the right chemistry for life, Cassini also observed another interesting moon. A salty ocean was revealed in Saturn's icy moon Enceladus.
Enceladus had already been spotted decades ago and was considered as the most reflective object in the Solar System. This is why Cassini was developed with Enceladus in mind. NASA's Voyager missions were the first to make flybys at Enceladus.
The icy moon orbits Saturn's E-ring. The reflective properties could be attributed to the ice dust on the moon's surface. Scientists initially thought that the moon was a dead, airless space object. However, Cassini's closer observation revealed more intriguing facts about the moon.
As it turns out, Enceladus is not just a dead ball of ice. It apparently looks like a comet that emits gas. Saturn's magnetic field envelops the moon and was perturbed about the South Pole, according to a report. This surprising fact still bewilders scientists until today because the co-relation does not make sense.
"Enceladus was so exciting that, instead of just three close flybys planned for our four-year primary mission, we added 20 more, including seven that went right through the geysers at the south pole," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California said in a statement.
After years of observation and scientific analysis, Cassini enabled the discovery of a global salty water under Enceladus' reflective surface. Scientists believe that there could be hydrothermal vents on the moon's seafloor.
"Half the excitement of doing science is that you sometimes find yourself going in a totally different direction than you expected, which can lead to amazing discoveries," Spilker added, saying that the "little anomaly" in Cassini's magnetometer signal is enough clue that Enceladus could have an ocean.
What makes the moon more interesting is that the current finding may be applicable to other satellites within the Solar System that also suggests these type of moons may possess the right ingredient to harbor life.