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?

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?

Assigned 118 times

  • MoyeJohn-DiB
    3/17/2015 - 09:35 a.m.

    that is cool how we have made tecnoligy now days that can go the far and can resist that amount of preasher and that extrem cold

  • 21sjjens
    3/17/2015 - 12:10 p.m.

    I think if there is water on Saturn, it would be very amazing. Not only we wouldn't be on the only object containing water, but there could also be life on that moon, which I think is very revolutionary.

  • maggiec-And
    3/17/2015 - 03:59 p.m.

    I learned that scientist theorize that there are bubbling hot springs on one of Saturn's moons, Enceladus. They are thinking about possible missions to Enceladus.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    3/17/2015 - 07:01 p.m.

    I think that it is cool because one of Saturn's moon, "Enceladus" has a hot spring which is from under the icy surface of Enceladus, but it is unlikely certain that the sun is far away from Enceladus, but the hot water is formed by the contact of hot water and the rocks from the ocean floor. Well if Enceladus is the only planet's moon that has water in it, Mars has water on it's surface.

  • MailanN-4
    3/17/2015 - 08:48 p.m.

    i think that this is great how we are discovering that there are vast changes going on, on these planets. for example, in this article it explained how we found that there have been spring forming on a moon of Saturn called Enceladus. this is the first known planet with rocks and water beneath the surface. these new discoveries is opening more and more planet opportunities for human life to exist on.

  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    3/18/2015 - 12:14 a.m.

    I think this is cool because there could be life on Enceladus because of the hot springs that are rumored to be there. This could be possible because in the seafloor, there are hydrothermal vents and there are living organisms around there. They live with no sun. Therefore, it is possible that there could be life on Enceladus.
    Critical thinking challenge: Why is the research based on Cassini instead of astronauts?
    Answer: the research is based on Cassini because they are the ones leading the research and they found the hot springs on Enceladus.

  • brookied2014
    3/18/2015 - 09:13 a.m.

    I guess everyone does learn a thing or two everyday, I found it pretty cool that bellow the surface of such an icy planet there could be boiling hot springs, I thought that it would have melted the ice before now, but surprisingly it hasn't.

  • AnthonyP1-Jac
    3/18/2015 - 02:29 p.m.

    That's so cool that one of Jupiter"s moon has heat and water and they found sighs of life well that's is even better because if there's sigh of life that means that we have a possibility that we can live there.

  • carterma-And
    3/18/2015 - 03:07 p.m.

    This came from the space shuttle because astronauts can not go all the way to Saturn because the human body can not live through the long journey.

  • SamF1-Jac
    3/18/2015 - 06:05 p.m.

    This was very interesting to read because if there is an ocean in Enceladus and we can find a way to get oxygen there when the Earth is no longer habitable we can go there.

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