Care for a dip in hot springnear Saturn?
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.

The moon is called Enceladus. It's pronounced ehn-SEHL'-uh-duhs.

If confirmed, it would make the moon 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. What's especially unusual is that there is no sunlight.

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

In the latest study, a group was led by Cassini team member Sean Hsu. He works at the University of Colorado. The group used spacecraft observations and computer modeling. They showed 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. Then it erupts into space in a plume of gas and ice. Some particles settle around Saturn. They replenish its biggest ring.

The new work also suggests that the ocean is deeper than previous estimates. It is more than 30 miles deep below the icy crust. No details were provided 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. That's when it flies through it. The spacecraft will pass within 30 miles above Enceladus' surface.

The findings were published online in the journal Nature.

Gabriel Tobie of France's University of Nantes wrote an accompanying editorial. He 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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Assigned 120 times

  • Valorg
    3/16/2015 - 11:56 a.m.

    The cassini space probe has discovered strange plumes of what seems to be water and rock on Jupiter's moon Enceladus. If what the cassini space probe saw ends up being correct that will mean that planet is volcanically active underwater and if that is true there is a chance for life to spring on this planet.

  • JB000blue
    3/16/2015 - 01:05 p.m.

    I think it is pretty cool that they can actrolly do that! Just thinking about space is cool,but even for you to take the trip there is pretty far away.

  • claytonju-And
    3/16/2015 - 03:30 p.m.

    I think it is amazing how they did that even thinking about space is cool but if I were to go there it would be amazing enough.

  • MaggieM-3
    3/16/2015 - 07:32 p.m.

    A NASA-European space craft, launched in 1997 named Cassini has data that gives scientist theories there are hot springs on Enceladus, one of Saturn's many moons. If these theories are correct Enceladus and Earth would be the only objects in space which have hot water and rocks interacting underground. Another reason to root for the theories is that it would increase the chances that life could be found there. Earth has microbial life living underground in hydrothermal vents with no sunlight so it is highly possible that Enceladus could have similar forms of life. Cassini is on track to get a better view of the plume, that started this theory, later in the year. All of Cassini's data was published in the online journal Nature. Gabriel Tobie of France's University of Nantes believes that to really find out the truth about Enceladus and its hot springs there will need to be future missions with a lander to investigate.
    I think that it is a very interesting thought that Saturn's moon could have microbial life, but I think what is more interesting to ponder is if Enceladus could sustain human life people made alterations to the atmosphere and other life effecting factors.

  • lg117-Sch
    3/16/2015 - 07:32 p.m.

    In response to "Care for a dip in hot springnear Saturn?," I agree that it would be cool to take swim in a hot spring on one of Saturn's moons. One reason I agree is that relaxing on another planet would be awesome. Another reason is that having two planets would be better because more people could be born. It says in the article "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. What's especially unusual is that there is no sunlight." A third reason is that it would be very relaxing. Even though it might be dangerous to go to a moon of Saturn, I think it would be cool!

  • TannerD-Kut
    3/16/2015 - 08:30 p.m.

    there is a place in the atmosphere that i called Enceladus. it is nice to know what is happening in the atmosphere.and that learning this will help you along the way in schools and in life.

  • KellerB-2
    3/16/2015 - 11:17 p.m.

    i think that this scientific discovery can help us determine other things about the moons and planets. this article is about the discovery of hot springs on a moon near saturn.

    • 21dwwart
      3/17/2015 - 12:19 p.m.

      I think that is also is right but i also think that we can find more discoverers on Earth and maybe that all the planets could be part of Earth. Or we could discover more planets that may or may not be able to live on or find life on an other planet, but we the people of Earth can make our lives easy by helping one in other to discover all the things out there and maybe bring the Earth together.

  • MCS2001softball
    3/17/2015 - 08:43 a.m.

    I think that it is important that there is water on Saturn's surface because it could lead to more discoveries about the outer planets and space in general. This is a great discovery and everyone involved should be very proud of themselves.

  • D.F2001Rex
    3/17/2015 - 08:48 a.m.

    The reason research is based off of Cassini and not astronauts is because Saturn's moons are to far for people to tavel to, also if people could travel that far they would not have enough resources to last them a long time.

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