The ocean of Saturn’s moon Enceladus may have been warmed for so long life could have already evolved, a new study points out.
NASA’s Cassini has already said goodbye by plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, but its years of hard work are certainly not in vain. Saturn’s moon Enceladus, rather than the planet itself, is ideal to host alien life. The reason lies underneath it.
The Tiger Stripes Region
In 2005, Saturn’s probe brought back data that revealed the presence of water jets shooting up to the icy surface of the moon. These geysers found in the Tiger Stripes region in the south pole suggested that not only is there a sub-ocean but that it’s also warm enough.
Even more exciting, NASA found out these water plumes contain chemical signatures necessary to help sustain life. To be more specific, it has hydrogen and most likely methane. It also pointed out there’s a hydrothermal activity.
Scientists, however, didn’t know two things. First, what is the source of heat? Second, why is it very active only in the south pole? Some attribute the energy source to radioactive decay, but it would mean the sub-ocean freezing in less than 30 million years. Others say tidal heating, but the amount of heat it can generate is insufficient to match the one that powers the geysers and hydrothermal activity.
The answers lie on the condition of the moon’s core.
A Porous Core
In a new study published in Nature Astronomy, researchers discovered that given the low density and the size of the moon, it has a porous rather than a rocky core. Using complex calculations and software, they also learned its permeability, viscosity, convection, and temperature composition.
Most of all, they were able to create a 3D model that showed the movement of water within these porous spaces.
The porous core takes in water from the ocean where it becomes heated. Then it passes through narrow upwellings with temperatures of about 85 degrees Celsius.
Although both the north and soul poles exhibit geologic activity, most of the hotspots are found in the south, which has a thinner ice shell. This then explains why cracks are here and water gushes forth like geysers.
Is There An Alien Life?
Most space explorations are either to study the origins or determine if there’s any sign of life. To sustain life, scientists consider many factors, including the presence and condition of the water.
The study suggests the amount of heat source generated by this movement would have been enough to sustain the warm ocean of the moon for billions of years.
“[The] powerful hydrothermal activity could have been occurring since the formation of the moon, possibly as much as the age of the solar system,” Gaël Choblet, lead author, said in his correspondence with Newsweek.
Although the Enceladus is believed to be young, it might be a sufficient period to allow even primitive life to form.