Is There Water on Saturn?

by Fraser Cain on July 3, 2008

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Saturn\'s moon Enceladus behind the rings. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI
Saturn is almost entirely hydrogen and helium, but it does have trace amounts of other chemicals, including water. When we look at Saturn, we’re actually seeing the upper cloud tops of Saturn’s atmosphere. These are made of frozen crystals of ammonia.

You can also check out these cool telescopes that will help you see the beauty of planet Saturn.

But beneath this upper cloud layer, astronomers think there’s a lower cloud deck made of ammonium hydrosulfide and water. There is water, but not very much.

Once you get away from Saturn itself, though, the nearby area has plenty of water. Saturn’s rings are almost entirely made of water ice, in chunks ranging in size from dust to house-sized boulders.

And all of Saturn’s moons have large quantities of water ice. For example, Saturn’s moon Enceladus is thought to have a mantle rich in water ice, surrounding a silicate core. Geysers of water vapor were detected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, spraying out of cracks at Enceladus’ southern pole.

If you want to look for water at Saturn, don’t look at the planet itself, but there’s water all around it.

Here’s an article from Universe Today about the plume of water ice coming off of Enceladus, and how Saturn’s environment is driven by ice.

Here’s an article from NASA about the composition of ice at Saturn’s moon Rhea, and the discovery of liquid water on Enceladus.

We have recorded two episodes of Astronomy Cast just about Saturn. The first is Episode 59: Saturn, and the second is Episode 61: Saturn’s Moons.

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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