New theories emerge based on the shape of Enceladus’ ice shells that suggests just 12 miles below the surface, similar current to Earth’s Antarctica.

New theories emerge based on the shape of Enceladus’ ice shells that suggests just 12 miles below the surface, the ocean inside Saturn’s 6th moon may have a similar current to Earth’s Antarctica.

Scientists and astronomers have been keeping a close eye on Enceladus since 2014, when the Cassini spacecraft caught dozens of geysers sprouting through fissures in the ice shells.

The new theory challenges the earlier hypothesis that the moon’s global ocean was homogenously caused by the warmth of the moon’s core.

The Ocean Moon

For decades, astronomers weren’t sure why Enceladus was the brightest world in the solar system. But thanks to data provided by the Cassini spacecraft, scientists now know that the moon’s fresh coating on its surface and icy material originated from vents connected to a global subsurface saltwater ocean.

Despite Saturn’s moon being small and icy, Cassini revealed that the ocean world is one of the most scientifically interesting destinations in the solar system. With Encelauds’ unique chemistry, global ocean, and internal heat, it has become a promising lead for scientists in the quest for life in space.

Enceladus Antarctic-like Currents

With more and more studies being conducted, researchers are gaining a new understanding of evaluating the icy moon’s hospitality to microbes.

Andrew Thompson, co-author and a professor of environmental science and engineering at the California Institute of Technology, says in a statement that understanding which region in Enceladus’ subsurface ocean may be most hospitable to life could one day inform efforts to search for possible life outside of Earth.

A study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, entitled “A pole-to-equator ocean overturning circulation on Enceladus,” suggests that salt levels in Enceladus’ oceans may vary depending on region, which may cause changes in circulation patterns.

If proven, this would mean that the moon’s oceanography is similar to Antarctica’s currents that Thomspos regularly studies.

Measurements provided by Cassini show that gravitational measurements and heat calculations are thinner near the poles of the icy moon’s equator, suggesting that polar ice has been melting and freezing.

The activity of constant phase change would also affect the global ocean’s currents. Researchers say that when salty water freezes, it releases salt, making the surrounding water heavier. While the melting of icy water would have the opposite effect reducing the water’s density.

Ana Lobo, lead researcher and a graduate student of geophysics at Caltech, explains in a statement that knowing the distribution of ice on Saturn’s icy moon allows researchers to place constraints on possible circulation patterns.

Lobo and Thomson explain that based on knowledge of Antarctica’s oceans, Enceladus’ regions of freezing and melting should be connected via ocean currents. Wearing the connections on the icy moon would forge a pole-to-equator circulation pattern moving heat and nutrients around the moon, which is about 300 miles in diameter.

Although Enceladus shows signs of similarities with Antarctica, researchers point out significant differences between the planet’s oceans. Earth’s oceans are roughly 2.2 miles deep on average, while Enceladus is about 8 times deeper.

Originally published at Science Times