This important measurement was made using Cassini's INMS instrument, which detects gases with the goal of determining their composition. INMS was designed to sample the upper atmosphere of Saturn's large, smoggy moon Titan. However, after Cassini's surprising discovery of a tall plume if icy spray erupting from cracks on Enceladus in 2005, planetary scientists turned its detectors to that small moon.
The team's findings can also be applied to exoplanets, which are planets that circle stars beyond our own Sun. Some super-Earth exoplanets, which are rocky planets more massive than our own, have been proposed as "water worlds" covered with churning oceans. Could they have life? Perhaps. The potential would certainly be there. Dr. Vance and his team believe laboratory experiments and more sophisticated modeling of exotic oceans might help to find answers to these very profound questions.
Dr. Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist and leader of the Imaging Science team for Cassini, explained to the press in March 2012 that "More than 90 jets of all sizes near Enceladus's south pole are spraying water vapor, icy particles, and organic compounds all over the place. Cassini has flown several times now through this spray and has tasted it. And we have found that aside from water and organic material, there is salt in the icy particles. The salinity is the same as that of Earth's oceans."