A moon orbiting Saturn may have a sub-surface ocean that could be harboring some form of life, NASA announced Thursday.
The space agency said its Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Enceladus and found evidence that life could exist in the small celestial body that is covered in a coating of ice roughly two or three miles thick.
That evidence, NASA said, lies in water that's been spewing out into space through cracks in the surface ice. The water was found to contain hydrogen and carbon dioxide, a sign that life — at least at the microbial level — could exist in the waters there.
Scientists believe undersea plumes, similar to those on Earth that eject superheated water, could be spraying the water through the fissures in Enceladus' icy surface that's scarred with lines called tiger stripes.
"It really represents a capstone finding for the mission," Cassini's project scientist Linda Spilker said during a news conference.
"We now know that Enceladus has almost all of the ingredients that you would need to support life as we know it on Earth."
NASA astrobiology senior scientist Mary Voytek said finding any form of life, including bacteria, would be a great start to NASA's hunt for life beyond Earth.
"Most of us would be excited with any life," Voytek said. "We're going to start with bacteria and, if we get lucky, maybe there's something that's larger."
NASA also believes that three of Jupiter's moons contain sub-surface oceans, including Europa — which was also seen by Cassini spewing water through cracks in its surface ice. The natural satellite may actually contain twice as much water as is found on Earth.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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