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On a small moon of Saturn, hidden below more than 30 kilometres of ice, lies a body of water the size of Lake Superior that could be a suitable harbour for alien microbes. That’s the conclusion reached by scientists whose gravitational measurements of Enceladus, a frozen world that is roughly the size of Newfoundland, offer the strongest indication yet for an extensive reservoir beneath the surface.

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Saturn's moon Enceladus, covered in snow and ice, resembles a perfectly packed snowball in this image from NASA's Cassini mission.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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A pair of Saturn's moons appear insignificant compared to the immensity of the planet in this Cassini spacecraft view along the terminator where day transitions to night. The larger moon Enceladus (313 miles, or 504 kilometers across) is also on the left, just a bit closer to the center of the image. Epimetheus (70 miles, or 113 kilometers across) appears as a tiny black speck on the far left of the image, left of Enceladus, just below the thin line of the rings. The rings cast wide shadows on the southern hemisphere of the planet. This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from just above the ringplane. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Nov. 4, 2011.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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On Oct. 5, 2008, just after coming within 25 kilometers (15.6 miles) of the surface of Enceladus, NASA's Cassini captured this stunning mosaic as the spacecraft sped away from this geologically active moon of Saturn. Craters and cratered terrains are rare in this view of the southern region of the moon's Saturn-facing hemisphere. Instead, the surface is replete with fractures, folds, and ridges—all hallmarks of remarkable tectonic activity for a relatively small world. In this enhanced-color view, regions that appear blue-green are thought to be coated with larger grains than those that appear white or gray.

NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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Two icy moons meet on the sky in a "mutual event" recorded by the Cassini spacecraft. The great brightness of Enceladus (505 kilometers, or 314 miles across) is rather obvious in comparison to Dione (1,126 kilometers, or 700 miles across) behind it. Enceladus is the most reflective object in the Solar System, and is nearly pure white. Dione, in comparison, reflects about 70 percent of the light falling upon it. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on July 24, 2007.

NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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As it swooped past the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus on July 14, 2005, Cassini acquired high resolution views of this puzzling ice world. From afar, Enceladus exhibits a bizarre mixture of softened craters and complex, fractured terrains. This large mosaic of 21 narrow-angle camera images have been arranged to provide a full-disk view of the anti-Saturn hemisphere on Enceladus.

NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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