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By | Ashlee Vance 9th March 2006 18:40

NASA finds a gusher on Saturn moon

Water and life on tap

A small, frigid moon orbiting Saturn may have vast stores of liquid water that could sustain life, NASA revealed today.

The Cassini spacecraft has sent back images that show "Yellowstone-like geysers" on Saturn's moon Enceladus. Researchers have seen "icy jets and towering plumes" of particles being ejected from the moon's surface at speed. While not certain, NASA believes that the best explanation for the geysers would be close to the surface reservoirs of liquid water.

"It appears we have all the ingredients that all the experts have claimed for a long time now, you would need to have environments suitable for living organisms," said Carolyn Porco, a Cassini team leader. "And so, that’s what we think we have here. We have found another environment in our solar system, in a very surprising place, that could host living organisms.

"Now, of course, we’ll never know until we go there, but it’s a very, very, very exciting possibility. It's really broadened the diversity of those environments that we can expect to see conditions suitable for life."

NASA has previously found indications of large, liquid-water oceans on other moons, but those oceans are covered by miles-thick, mammoth ice deposits. Enceladus appears to have liquid water just meters below its surface.

The discoveries seem to back up previous speculation about water on the little moon.

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