Back in 2005, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft first revealed that Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, had active geologic activity. It discovered an icy spray issuing out of the moon’s southern polar region as well as temperatures in that region that were higher than expected. Currently, it is being suggested, that there also may be a 6-mile deep, 25 mile thick, ocean beneath the moon’s icy shell.
Cassini’s cosmic dust analyzer (CDA) first started picking up signs of miniscule rock particles rich in silicon before it even reached Saturn’s orbit in 2004. This type of material is found in sand and mineral quartz on Earth. This led scientists to believe that there were some specific processes related to hydrothermal activity going on under the surface of Enceladus.
It is the first clear sign that there is present-day hydrothermal activity occurring on Enceladus, implicating activity on a world that opens up a wealth of scientific possibilities. It is suggested that this hydrothermal activity is similar to what happens naturally deep within the oceans of Earth. This activity occurs when seawater infiltrates and reacts with a rock crust and emerges as a heated, mineral-laden solution.
“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the universe.”
Following the publication of two papers on this discovery, Frank Postberg, a Cassini CDA team scientist at Heidelberg University in Germany, remarked that “[we] methodically searched for alternate explanations for the nanosilica grains, but every new result pointed to a single, most likely origin.”
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