Cassini Discovers Ocean Inside Saturn Moon Enceladus

Posted: Sep 16 2015, 8:59pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 
Cassini Discovers Ocean Inside Saturn Moon Enceladus
Cassini imaging team, NASA/JPL

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NASA scientists have found that Enceladus wobbles as it orbits Saturn, indicating a global ocean is lying beneath its icy crust.

Enceladus, the Moon that zooms around Saturn, is not just a block of ice. Researchers have found that its interior is not frozen solid and there must be a global ocean lying under its icy crust.

NASA scientists looked at many years of gravity data and images before they reached their conclusion. The water vapor, ice particles and organic molecules streaming out from its south pole indicate there is a liquid ocean under its surface.

“This was a hard problem that required years of observations and calculations involving a diverse collection of disciplines, but we are confident we finally got it right.” Peter Thomas, a Cassini imaging team member and lead author of the study, said.

Cassini spacecraft has collected valuable data and close-up images of Enceladus surface during its several close passes over the south pole region since 2005. The features of the Saturn Moon especially craters have been mapped carefully and its rotational changes have been monitored with an extreme precision. Scientists observed that the Moon wobbles in a specific way as it orbits Saturn.

“If the surface and core were rigidly connected, the core would provide so much dead weight the wobble would be far smaller than we observe it to be,” said Mathew Tiscareno, a Cassini scientist at SETI institute. “This proves that there must be a global layer of liquid separating the surface from the core.”

Why the inside is not frozen solid, it’s a mystery yet to be solved. Saturn's moon is entirely covered with an icy crust and is extremely cold from the outside. Possibly, the tidal forces from Saturn’s gravity generates enough heat that prevents its moon’s ocean from freezing.

“This is a major step beyond what we understood about this moon before, and it demonstrates the kind of deep-dive discoveries we can make with long-live orbiter missions to other planets.” Carolyn Porco, co-author of the study, said.

Cassini spacecraft is scheduled to make a close flyby of Saturn moon on October, 28. The spacecraft is expected to pass 49 kilometers above the moon’s surface, making it deepest ever dive of the mission so far.

The study was published in Icarus.

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