Dione may be the third Saturn moon to have a subsurface ocean after Titan and Enceladus
Latest data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft indicates that Saturn’s moon Dione is hiding a liquid ocean beneath its icy crust, making it the third moon of the ringed planet besides Titan and Enceladus suspected to have subsurface oceans.
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Researchers have examined the gravity data from recent close flybys to the moon and hinted at the existence of a subsurface ocean. The ocean is estimated to be several tens of kilometers deep, surrounding a solid core. Since the presence of liquid water is an important factor to support life, these findings could make Dione a strong candidate for a habitable object beyond Earth.
Dione is the fifteenth largest moon in our solar system and thanks to Cassini mission, scientists have been able to learn a lot about its surface features, compositional properties and geological evolution. The latest findings will expand their understanding of the icy world.
Researchers believe that Dione is very similar to its neighbor Enceladus, whose south polar region's geysers are ejecting plumes of water and ice. However, the same cannot be said about Dione which is a relatively quiet place – at least so far.
According to the new study, Enceladus' ocean is much closer to the surface, whereas, Dione is believed to harbor a deep ocean between its crust and core, 100 kilometers below the surface.
“The contact between the ocean and the rocky core is crucial", said Attilio Rivoldini, co-author of the study. “Rock-water interactions provide key nutrients and a source of energy, both being essential ingredients for life.”
NASA has collected the water sample from the vast subsurface ocean of Enceladus last year but the ocean of Dione appears to be too deep for easy access.