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JPL/NASA: Underground ocean likely exists on Saturn moon

saturn titan ocean

Photo: A. Tavani/JPL/NASA

Inside Titan This artist's concept shows a possible scenario for the internal structure of Titan, as suggested by data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. Scientists have been trying to determine what is under Titan's organic-rich atmosphere and icy crust. Data from the radio science experiment make the strongest case yet for a global subsurface ocean, sitting above a subsurface layer of high-pressure ice and a water-infused silicate core.

Scientists say they have strong evidence to support what they have long suspected -- that Saturn's largest moon harbors a subsurface ocean. 

If confirmed, Titan would join a short list of bodies in the solar system with liquid water essential for life. However, the presence of liquid water itself does not necessarily indicate life, according to researchers at NASA's Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Scientists think life is more likely to arise when liquid water is in contact with rock, and these measurements cannot tell whether the ocean bottom is made up of rock or ice. The results have a bigger implication for the mystery of methane replenishment on Titan.

JPL researchers say their findings -- that 100 kilometers beneath the gassy/icy surface likely exists an ocean -- came from data collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The discovery was published in the June 29 issue of Science.

To understand a planetary body, its origins and its history, it helps to look inside it. Planetary scientists have now done just that in the case of Saturn's big moon Titan, one of the solar system's most enigmatic bodies. Using only the subtly varying pitch of radio transmissions from the Cassini probe as it repeatedly flew by Titan, Cassini scientists report online this week in Science that they have divined an ocean of water 100 kilometers beneath Titan's icy surface.



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