America’s unmanned space probes continue to do amazing things — including discovering that one of Saturn’s moon has salt water oceans like those on Earth.
The discovery was made by the Cassini spacecraft, which has been flying around the huge gas giant and its famous rings. Cassini reached a point within 46 miles of the south pole of ice-covered Enceladus, one of Saturn’s many moons, and on its close pass Cassini actually flew through the jets of water vapor and ice that make up the geysers emanating from the moon. In so doing, the probe “tasted” the vapor and determined that it consists of water, organic compounds, and salt, at the same salinity levels as Earth’s oceans.
The evidence suggests that there are liquid oceans underneath Enceladus’ icy crust, and that the water may be in contact with the moon’s rocky core — which could be supplying the chemical compounds that are the building blocks of life. This discovery makes Enceladus a prime candidate for another mission designed to determine whether life in some form actually exists on the moon. We’ll just have to hope that we can find the money necessary to fund the mission that will follow up on this very intriguing discovery.