It could be called the briny deep, but that might be pushing it a little. Nevertheless, a new study confirming a salty ocean under the icy surface of Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, is significant. Further analysis of data from the Cassini space probe led by researchers at the University of Heidelberg (Germany) and the University of Colorado, Boulder (USA) and published in the journal Science [23 June 2011, paywalled, ] indicates the presence of large salt crystals that are ‘squeezed out’ by freezing water vapor that jets into the super-cold Enceladus atmosphere. The reasonable explanation for the salt is the existence of a large saltwater ocean. The scientist hypothesize that Enceladus has an ocean between the 50 mile (80 km) thick top layer of ice and the rocky core of the moon. The rocky core is deformed by the shifting gravitational pull of Saturn, which produces the heat necessary to keep the water from freezing.
It’s not much of a mental stretch to understand that a ‘relatively warm and salty ocean’ might be an environment favorable to life. We know of one such place already. The confirmation of a salty ocean on Enceladus also raises the possibility of many more such moons elsewhere in the cosmos, thus upping the probabilities for locating exogenous (non-Earth) life.