Possibility of life on Saturn moon, say scientists.
EVIDENCE of geological activity involving water and hot rock suggests that Saturn's moon Enceladus might be a suitable home for life.
Scientists analysing data from the Cassini spacecraft, which has been exploring Saturn and its moons since 2004, have found microscopic grains of rock bearing the hallmarks of hydrothermal activity.
The silica grains are thought to have originated in plumes from geysers observed on Enceladus, whose icy surface is believed to cover a watery ocean.
They are the first clear indication of hydrothermal activity, which involves seawater infiltrating and reacting with rock to emerge as a heated, mineral-laden solution.
On Earth, such activity in the deep oceans generates nutrient chemicals that harbour life.
Lead researcher Dr Sean Hsu, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, said: "It's very exciting that we can use these tiny grains of rock, spewed into space by geysers, to tell us about conditions on - and beneath - the ocean floor of an icy moon."
The size of the grains, between six and nine nanometres across, provided the vital clue to their origins.
On Earth, the most common way to form silica grains of this size is through hydrothermal activity involving a specific range of conditions.
The research is reported in the journal Nature.
Saturn's moon Enceladus, above, might be suitable for life, according to data from the Cassini spacecraft <B