NASA researchers were recently reviewing images of Saturn’s moons when they noticed something funny.
One of them was wobbling.
While that might not sound like something to raise an eyebrow at, it’s strange for a moon to do that since the gravitational pull of Saturn keeps most of its other moons revolving in a fairly consistent pattern. But now, they think they may have figured out what the mystery behind Enceladus’ strange movements really is.
Researchers recently concluded that the moon’s strange behaviour is likely due to an ocean that encompasses its entire surface. The gravitational pull from Saturn ends up tugging at the solid core of the moon beneath that ocean, causing the wobble.
“The magnitude of the moon’s very slight wobble, as it orbits Saturn, can only be accounted for if its outer ice shell is not frozen solid to its interior, meaning a global ocean must be present,” says a statement released by NASA.
So why is this significant? Well, for one, water is necessary to support life as we know it, so this could be the greatest chance we have at finding aliens in our own galaxy.
But there’s more than just an ocean to support this theory. In February, NASA researchers analyzed a chemical model of the ocean water on Enceladus which it obtained from the Cassini spacecraft (which has been orbiting Saturn for about 10 years). What they found was that “…the pH is compatible with life as we know it; life on Earth may have begun under similar conditions…”.
Then in March, the Cassini spacecraft provided researchers with clear evidence of hydrothermal activity in that giant ocean, which may resemble processes seen in deep oceans here on Earth. The discovery was enough to prompt NASA to announce, yet again, that life could exist there.
“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement.
Cassini is scheduled to make its next close flyby of Enceladus on Oct 28, passing only 49 kilometers away from its surface.
We can only imagine what it’ll find this time.