LONDON (CBS Tampa) – Scientists have discovered a huge ocean of water on one of Saturn’s moons, reports

Enceladus is covered with a crust of ice that is 19 to 25 miles thick. The ocean, say astronomers, is about 6 miles deep.

They also say the water is in direct contact with a rocky sea floor. And that’s exciting because it sets the stage for all kinds of complex chemical reactions that may be similar to what led to life on Earth.

“The main implication is that there are potentially habitable environments in the solar system in places which are completely unexpected,” said study lead author Luciano Iess with Sapienza University in Rome.

Iess and his colleagues mapped out Enceladus’ gravity by measuring how the 313-mile-wide moon tugged on the Cassini spacecraft during three close flybys from 2010 to 2012.

The heat required to keep this water in a liquid state is generated within the moon itself. Scientists theorize the energy may be coming from tidal and gravitational interactions with another of Saturn’s moons, Dione.

The ocean probably feeds the geysers observed on Enceladus. They are known to blast organic compounds, which contain the building blocks for life.

The surface area of the ocean would be about the size of Lake Superior, but because it is much deeper, it contains abundantly more liquid water.

It’s great news for astronomers looking for signs of life elsewhere in the solar system.

Jupiter’s moon Europa is also a candidate for life because it, too, has a large ocean of water beneath an icy crust.

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