Care for a dip in hot springnear Saturn? Saturn's moon, Enceladus, appears at left (AP photo / Reuters)
Care for a dip in hot springnear Saturn?
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New research suggests there are hot springs bubbling beneath the icy surface of a tiny Saturn moon.

If confirmed, it would make the moon Enceladus (ehn-SEHL'-uh-duhs) the only other known body in the solar system besides Earth where hot water and rocks interact underground.

That activity would make the moon an even more attractive place in the hunt for microbial life. On Earth, scientists have found weird life forms living in hydrothermal vents on the ocean bottom where there's no sunlight.

The research comes from Cassini, a NASA-European spacecraft that launched in 1997 to explore Saturn and its numerous moons from orbit. It previously uncovered a vast ocean beneath Enceladus and a giant plume of gas and ice streaming from cracks in the south polar region.

In the latest study, a group led by Cassini team member Sean Hsu of the University of Colorado in Boulder used spacecraft observations and computer modeling to show that the plume is connected to what's happening on the lunar sea floor.

Judging by their size and makeup, the team believes particles in the plume are the result of hot water coming into contact with rocks on the ocean floor. The resulting mineral-rich water then shoots up through the icy crust and erupts into space in a plume of gas and ice. Some particles settle around Saturn, replenishing its biggest ring.

The new work also suggests that the ocean is deeper than previous estimates more than 30 miles deep below the icy crust. It did not provide details on how big the ocean might be, but the Cassini team last year said it could be as big as or even bigger than North America's Lake Superior.

Cassini should get a better glimpse of the plume later this year when it flies through it, passing within 30 miles above Enceladus' surface.

The findings were published online in the journal Nature.

In an accompanying editorial, Gabriel Tobie of France's University of Nantes said the environment beneath Enceladus appears similar to the underwater system of hot springs and towering spires nicknamed "LostCity" in the mid-Atlantic.

It would take future missions such as a lander on the surface of Enceladus to "fully reveal the secrets of its hot springs," he wrote.

Critical thinking challenge: Why is the research based on Cassini instead of astronauts?

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COMMENTS (17)
  • Son_Of_Zeus
    3/16/2015 - 12:54 p.m.

    I think that it is very cool that there is a earth like moon that has hot water springs and has living things!
    The planet was discoverd in 1789 by William Herschel and was little known about until two voyager spacecraft flew over in the 1980's.

  • nicholas.jones07
    3/16/2015 - 12:56 p.m.

    I think that the hot springs on Saturn's moon is awesome and interesting. I think that if we continue to invent new ways to travel through space we will eventually have space vacations. I hope some day we can.

  • 9samw9
    3/16/2015 - 01:02 p.m.

    Because Cassini owned the space craft that flew past Saturns moon discovering the steam leaking through the crack. This article is also based on Cassini because there were no astronauts on board the spacecraft. Since Cassini sent the spacecraft to space they get the credit for the discovery. The only astronauts that get to go to space now are the ones who go to the international space station. There were no astronauts involved in the discovery of the crack on Saturns moon.

  • donovanh-Che
    3/17/2015 - 11:49 a.m.

    This is, in my opinion, a very important discovery (even though it is not proven) for the search of extraterrestrial life. Because life survives in conditions on Earth exactly like those predicted on Enceladus, however I think it is unlikely life will be found in said moon because other chemical processes have to occur for life to develop. Europa also may have a similar condition in that it likely has a subsurface ocean under the icy surface. The tidal forces from Jupiter and Jupiter's other moons create a lot of geothermal energy (but I doubt Enceladus would have plate tectonics like Earth). Maybe we can send probes designed to go be low the surfaces of both of these moons to see what kind of chemicals exist in the water (if there is water) and if there is evidence of chemosynthesis.

  • brandonj-Koc
    3/18/2015 - 10:38 a.m.

    The new research on Saturn may spark a new controversy in the way we look at the universe around us when more and more discoveries come about along the way.

  • Js2001ege
    3/19/2015 - 08:48 a.m.

    Cassini should get a better glimpse of the plume later this year when it flies through it, passing within 30 miles above Enceladus' surface.
    The findings were published online in the journal Nature.

  • NashMcComsey-Ste
    3/19/2015 - 01:28 p.m.

    This is an interesting development. I wonder what such a discovery means for the scientific community. Is it worth invesigating further? Could this lead to the discovery of even more bodies in the solar system capable of supporting life?

  • rositap-Che
    3/19/2015 - 01:50 p.m.

    That would be cool to go to a hot spring in Saturn but would you really go that far away just to got to a hot spring. I would I would go the ones we have at earth cause its more easier and saves money.

  • EthanI-5
    3/19/2015 - 08:00 p.m.

    It's cool how there are on hot springs on Saturn's moon. The springs are 30 miles below the surface of staurns moon. No. I would not like to take a dip in saturnas hot springs

  • Blaker-2
    3/19/2015 - 08:05 p.m.

    In this article it is talking about a moon orbiting saturn called, Enceladus. scientist believes because there are large lakes with under water hot springs there might be signs of life there because its almost the same conditions on earth. I think that this is a cool article because scientist have trying to find other life for a while.

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