Pasadena, CA, United States (4E) – NASA scientists analyzing photos of the Saturn moon Enceladus taken by the Cassini spacecraft found 101 geysers that indicate a subsurface ocean.
The discovery makes Enceladus the second candidate after Jupiter’s moon Europa for follow-on missions to look for signs of life. Enceladus has a diameter of 300 miles.
The geysers that spew tiny ice particles and water vapor were photographed by the Saturn prober Cassini in 2005. They are located in four tiger stripe fractures in the southern polar region of the moon, NASA said in a press release on Monday.
Water vapor condensing and venting from subsurface seawater are causing the geysers, NASA scientists believe.
Supporting the evidence of water is the gravity measurement made by Cassini that indicates an ocean sandwiched between its rocky core and icy shell in Enceladus’ southern hemisphere. The Cassini data estimates the ocean to be as large or larger than Lake Superior and 31 miles deep.
The ocean is suspected to be salty based on samples taken by Cassini when it flew close to the moon three times between 2010 and 2012. Two flybys were 65 miles and 44 miles above the surface of the south pole while one was 31 miles above the north pole.
Data collected by the spacecraft was transmitted to Earth 850 million miles away.
The Cassini spacecraft has been collecting data from the planet, its rings and its moons for the past seven years and the mission is scheduled to end in 2016, when it runs out of fuel.