A Geyser Moon With a Hidden Ocean

TIME

When the Cassini spacecraft got its first closeup look at Saturn’s moon Enceladus after the probe’s arrival in 2004, it was rewarded with a jaw-dropping sight: gigantic geysers of ice particles and water vapor spewing hundreds of miles into space from the icy world’s southern hemisphere. These plumes are so prolific that they continuously resurface Enceladus’ sparkling white surface with a fresh coating of ice crystals—and still have enough left over to be the main source of ice particles that make up Saturn’s E-ring.

It hasn’t been entirely clear where the geysers come from, however. Circumstantial evidence points to a subsurface ocean—the ice, as Cassini found by flying through the plumes, is laced with salts, suggesting a body of water in constant contact with a rocky bottom. It’s not crazy to imagine such an ocean, either: the constant flexing Enceladus feels from tidal forces caused by Saturn’s gravity…

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