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Study Shows Signs of Underground Ocean On a Saturn Moon

Update Date: Apr 04, 2014 12:06 PM EDT

Enceladus - a small moon orbiting the giant ringed planet Saturn - can be added to the growing list of places other than Earth that have oceans, according to a new study. 

However its distance being around 1.3 billion km away from the outer solar system rules out any possibility of water existing in the liquid form. 

According to gravity measurements taken by US space agency NASA, the moon contains an underground ocean in its southern hemisphere. Researchers believe that the ocean would be at least as big as Lake Superior. 

As far as computer models are suggesting, the ocean is likely to be sandwiched between the moon's rocky core and its ice-covered surface. Researchers added that tidal heat from gravitational tugging by Saturn and other sister moons might be the reason of the formation of the ocean. 

"An underground ocean provides one possible story to explain why water is gushing out of these fractures," said planetary scientist David Stevenson, with the California Institute of Technology in a press release.

"The prospect of liquid water, particularly water that comes close enough to rock to leach out minerals, raises the likelihood that Enceladus has chemistry suitable for life," planetary scientist Jonathan Lunine with Cornell University told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday, as quoted by NDTV.

"The interior of Enceladus is a very attractive potential place to look for life," Lunine added.

Enceladus is about 500 km in diameters and joins the elite group of places beyond Earth containing water such as Saturn's large moon Titan and Jupiter's Europa. 

"I don't know which of the two is going to be more likely to have life. It might be both. It could be neither. I think what this discovery tells us is that we just need to be more aggressive in getting the next generation of spacecraft both to Europa and to the Saturn system once the Cassini mission is over," Lunine said in a press release.

The research has been published in the journal Science

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