The idea that there might be a significant body of water under the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus isn’t new; we’ve known about its water vapor geysers for years. But now that we’ve essentially confirmed the existence of a subterranean liquid saltwater ocean roughly the size of Lake Superior, Enceladus joins Jupiter’s moon Europa on the shortlist of celestial bodies in our solar system that may contain extraterrestrial life.
On March 12th, 2008, the Cassini probe came closer to the surface of Enceladus than any other manmade object ever has, flying past a mere 16 miles from the moon’s icy surface. You can watch 44 raw images from the flyby arranged sequentially as an animation here:
It may be a while before scientists can directly investigate the possibility of life on Enceladus—NASA’s proposed plan to send a submarine to Europa has a 2030 deadline, and as of yet there is no similar plan for Enceladus—but this does speak to the prevalence of liquid water in the outer solar system, which is an encouraging sign that life may be present. And it is telling that, after more than a century of science fiction that predicted Martians, we find ourselves looking—once again—for the man in the moon.