NASA's Cassini has found salt in Saturn's E ring, hinting that the moon Encelaus could have an underground liquid reservoir, perhaps even an ocean.
Transcript:Linda Spilker, Cassini Deputy Project Scientist:
Recently, Cassini has found that a tiny moon that orbits around Saturn has jets and plumes of water coming out of it.
These particles go out and they form the E ring and in flying through the E ring one of the instruments on Cassini, the Cosmic Dust Analyzer, can take those particles and get a composition, and as part of that, they see salt.
Sascha Kempf, Cassini Scientist:
This is salt and this is what we found in the ice particles detected in Saturn's E ring. And what we think is that the salts come from an ocean below the surface of the moon Enceladus. The sodium is a tracer for a subsurface ocean.
That the material of the ice particles is a kind of water like on Earth.
And that that salty ocean tells us something about what might be going on inside of Enceladus to create the jets and plumes, that you need water, liquid water in contact with a rocky core to get out the sodium.
You could sort of think maybe the plumes are maybe sort of the breath of Enceladus, you know, coming out and telling us something about its interior.
So what we can say is we have the reservoir of liquid water and liquid water is one of the preconditions for forming life.
Places known or believed to have liquid water layers include:
I was surprised and also very excited to find out that you know we're getting closer and closer to the conclusion that you have liquid water, possibly a liquid ocean on a moon that's so tiny and in a place where we didn't expect to find conditions where you might find life.
This tiny moon, just 300 miles across, that might have liquid water and the conditions, the precursors for life.
The focus as Cassini continues into its Equinox mission and continues on into the future will be to have more close flybys of Enceladus, to fly through that plume, fly close to this tiny moon, to learn more about the processes going on inside.
Text: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology