Saturn’s Enceladus has been a moon of interest for NASA and astronomers around the world because it is believed to pack an ocean of liquid water underneath its icy surface and now new set of data shows that the moon’s south polar region could be much warmer than expected.
Researchers have published a new study in the journal Nature Astronomy based on this data from Cassini suggesting that Enceladus’ ocean of liquid water might be only a couple of miles beneath the icy surface of the moon thereby making it much closer to the surface than previously thought.
Astronomers point out that the excess heat detected in the Cassini data is especially pronounced over three fractures that are not unlike the “tiger stripes” – prominent, actively venting fractures that slice across the pole – except that they don’t appear to be active at the moment.
These seemingly dormant fractures lying above the moon’s warm, underground sea point to the dynamic character of Enceladus’ geology, suggest the moon might have experienced several episodes of activity, in different places on its surface.
Findings of the latest study sit in line with the results of a study published in 2016 that estimated the thickness of Enceladus’ icy crust. The studies indicate an average depth for the ice shell of 11 to 14 miles (18 to 22 kilometers), with a thickness of less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) at the south pole, said NASA.
“Finding temperatures near these three inactive fractures that are unexpectedly higher than those outside them adds to the intrigue of Enceladus,” said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “What is the warm underground ocean really like and could life have evolved there? These questions remain to be answered by future missions to this ocean world,” NASA reported.
Cassini mission is in the final leg of its mission and still continues to be one of the most important missions for NASA as it has captured amazing amounts of data about Saturn as well its moons providing us vital clues about the gaseous giant as well as its moons and the Solar System.