This page showcases our resources for those interested in learning more about ocean worlds. It includes activities that can be done at home as well as videos, animations, stories, and articles.Highlights
Videos & Animations
Are there oceans on other worlds? Yes! Earth is not alone. When you look deeper into our solar system, there are worlds we suspect have oceans hidden beneath their icy surfaces.
Life as we know it requires three ingredients: energy, organic molecules, and liquid water. Our search for life beyond Earth is a search for planets, dwarf planets, and moons that harbor substantial liquid water. Learn more about these places we call “ocean worlds.”
Our planet is a beautiful water-filled world, teeming with life. But did you know that Earth is not the only world in our solar system with an ocean? Here’s what you need to know about Ocean Worlds.
Space Shorts: Could Jupiter’s Moon Europa Have an Ocean?
Find out why scientists think Jupiter’s moon Europa might have twice as much water as Earth in this 60-second space short!
Scientists think there is an ocean within Jupiter’s moon Europa. Discover why scientists are so excited about the potential of this ice-covered world to answer one of humanity’s most profound questions – is there life beyond Earth?
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope observations of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa have revealed the presence of persistent water vapor — but, mysteriously, only in one hemisphere.
Learn about the detection of water vapor on Jupiter’s moon, Europa.
Discover NASA’s plans for a robotic mission to explore Europa and to investigate its habitability, employing a highly capable suite of remote sensing and in situ instruments on a spacecraft that will make multiple close flybys of this moon of Jupiter.
In May 2022, engineers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory returned to Imperial Dunes, California, to send a test model of Dragonfly through the skies to collect additional data that will help them develop guidance, control, and navigation algorithms for the actual Dragonfly spacecraft.
Learn about the Dragonfly mission to Titan: How we’ll get there, what we’ll do there, and how it could teach us about the building blocks of life.
Before the actual Dragonfly soars over the organic dunes of Titan, discover how the team developing the NASA rotorcraft lander at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory is testing the concept by sending instrumented models over the sands of Earth’s deserts.
Dragonfly is a NASA mission to explore the chemistry and habitability of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Dragonfly will send an autonomously operated rotorcraft to visit dozens of sites on Titan, investigating the moon’s surface and shallow subsurface for organic molecules and possible biosignatures. Explore these animations to learn more about Dragonfly and its various instruments.
Discover how Dragonfly’s suite of science instruments will investigate the chemistry and habitability of Titan.
Learn about how Saturn’s moon, Titan, is expanding our understanding of the chemical complexity of the solar system and the potential for life in the universe.
Experience Dragonfly, NASA’s revolutionary new mission to Titan, in this video trailer.
Search this gallery for videos, animations, images, and illustrations of the Dragonfly mission to Titan.
1. Ocean World Diversity (No Two Are the Same!)
Tiny moon (313.3 miles or 504.2 kilometers), about as wide as Arizona!
Layers: Ice crust, then global ocean, then rocky core
Scientists predict that a regional reservoir about 6 miles (10 kilometers) deep lies under a shell of ice 20 to 25 miles (30 to 40 kilometers) thick at Enceladus’s south pole.
This underground ocean is thought to feed the moon’s impressive jets, which spray from deep fissures (called “tiger stripes”) on the moon’s surface.
One of Saturn’s moons
Titan is believed to have a salty subsurface ocean – as salty as the Dead Sea on Earth – beginning about 30 miles (50 kilometers) below its ice shell.
It is possible that Titan’s ocean is thin and sandwiched between layers of ice or that it is thick and extends all the way down to the moon’s rocky interior.
Titan is expanding our understanding of the chemical complexity of the solar system and the potential for life in the universe. The Dragonfly mission (a rover-size drone-like vehicle) will take advantage of the moon’s environment (thick atmosphere and low surface gravity) to sample materials and determine the surface composition in dozens of locations across the icy world. Dragonfly is scheduled to launch in June of 2027 and arrive at Titan by 2034.
NASA’s Europa Clipper mission will conduct a detailed survey of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, to determine whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.
Scientists strongly suspect that a subsurface salty ocean lies beneath Europa’s icy crust. Tidal heating from its parent planet maintains this ocean’s liquid state and could also create partially melted pockets, or lakes, throughout the moon’s outer shell. Europa also has huge geysers, and scientists have detected water vapor erupting from these plumes above the moon’s surface.
Ganymede is the largest moon in our solar system (similar in size to the planet Mercury) and is the only moon with its own magnetic field.
Possible layers: ice crust, salty liquid ocean, another ice layer, liquid ocean, another ice layer (could be similar to Titan’s potentially sandwiched ocean)
One of Jupiter’s moons
Triton, a moon of Neptune, was the first place in the solar system where scientists found cryovolcanoes, ice volcanoes that spew out plumes of water-ice and other frozen molecules rather than molten rock.
Active geysers on Triton spew nitrogen gas, making this moon one of the known active worlds in the outer solar system.
A subsurface ocean at Triton is considered possible but is unconfirmed.
Volcanic features and fractures mark its cold, icy surface, likely results of past tidal heating.
2. Ocean Worlds and Astrobiology
Ocean Worlds May Harbor Life!
Did you know that there are other objects in our solar system (besides Earth!) that are considered “ocean worlds” and that these worlds have the potential to harbor life?
Jupiter’s moon, Europa, is just one of these worlds, and the Europa Clipper mission is preparing to uncover its mysteries, including learning more about the moon’s water vapor plumes.
Saturn’s moon, Titan, is expanding our understanding of the chemical complexity of the solar system and the potential for life in the universe with its unique chemical composition.
Where We Look
Key places to find potential life is at two different boundaries/layers: an ice-liquid ocean boundary and/or a rock-liquid ocean boundary.
A water-rock interface can be found at both Europa and Enceladus.
The Dragonfly mission’s target is an impact crater because such a site is more likely to have a mixing of organics with liquid water at the surface (i.e. exchange of material between the surface and the interior).
Cryovolcanism (like on Neptune’s moon, Triton) is another way that this mixing of surface materials with the interior can occur.
Planetary Ingredients for Life
Water, essential elements, chemical energy, stability
The Europa Clipper mission will use four large reaction wheels to help keep it oriented during the spacecraft’s study of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.
Observations from the Juno spacecraft’s pass of Europa on Sept. 29, 2022, provided the first close-up in over two decades of this ocean world, resulting in remarkable imagery and unique science.
The main body of NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft was delivered to the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in June 2022. Engineers and technicians will finish assembling the craft by hand before testing it to make sure it can withstand the journey to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa before it launches in 2024.
Parallel ice ridges, a common feature on Jupiter’s moon Europa, are found on Greenland’s ice sheet – and could bode well for Europa’s potential habitability.
Finding water plumes at Europa is an exciting prospect, but scientists warn it’ll be tricky, even from up close.
Jupiter’s moon Europa and its global ocean may currently have conditions suitable for life. Scientists are studying processes on the icy surface as they prepare to explore.
NASA is exploring the solar system and beyond to help us answer fundamental questions about life beyond our home planet.
Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn’s icy moon, Titan.
Discover how research on nine craters of Titan has provided more details about how weathering affects the evolution of the moon’s surface – and what lies beneath.
NASA scientists identified a molecule in Titan’s atmosphere that has never been detected in any other atmosphere. In fact, many chemists have probably barely heard of it or know how to pronounce it: cyclopropenylidene, or C3H2. Scientists say that this simple carbon-based molecule may be a precursor to more complex compounds that could form or feed possible life on Titan.
Learn why NASA is preparing to send the drone-like spacecraft Dragonfly to delve deeper into Titan, a world that has become one of the most important targets of exploration.
Volcanoes expose the pulse of many planets and moons, offering clues to how these bodies evolved from chemical soups to the complex systems of gases and rocks we see today. Unearthing these clues is what motivates planetary scientists to venture to such inhospitable places on Earth as smoldering lava fields and glacier-covered volcanoes.
Research and computer modeling show that volcanic activity may have occurred on the seafloor of Jupiter’s moon Europa in the recent past – and may still be happening. NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission will swoop close to the icy moon and collect measurements that may shed light on these findings.
This graphic history’s issue #4 focuses on astrobiology and missions to the outer solar system.
3. Are Planets with Oceans Common in the Galaxy? It’s Likely, NASA Scientists Find
Exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, might resemble some of the watery moons around Jupiter and Saturn.
Though some of these moons don’t have atmospheres and are covered in ice, they are still among the top targets in NASA’s search for life beyond Earth. Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa, which scientists classify as “ocean worlds,” are good examples.
The more scientists can learn about Europa and other potentially habitable moons of our solar system, the better they’ll be able to understand similar worlds around other stars — which may be plentiful. Upcoming missions (such as the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa and the Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan) will give scientists a chance to see whether ocean moons in our solar system could support life. If scientists find chemical signatures of life at these moons, they can then try to look for similar signs at interstellar distances.
In our solar system, there is an ocean twice the size of all Earth’s oceans combined, and it’s found on Europa. Learn more about it in this infographic.
Learn more about Europa with this colorful infographic.
Download your own Europa Clipper poster, desktop background, or mobile wallpaper.
Learn how scientists use Earth as a test lab for other worlds.
This gallery shows field research sites on Earth side-by-side with similar environments on other worlds. Pairs like these are called planetary analogs. Research at analog locations on Earth helps scientists to make sense of our solar system.
NASA’s Solar System Treks
The Solar System Treks are online, browser-based portals that allow you to visualize, explore, and analyze the surfaces of other worlds using real data returned from a growing fleet of spacecraft. You can view the worlds through the eyes of many different instruments, pilot real-time 3D flyovers above mountains and into craters, and conduct measurements of surface features.
Learn about ocean worlds and their potential for harboring life in this handout.
Ocean Worlds Poster
Earth isn’t the only ocean world in our solar system. Use this poster to discover the oceans that could exist in diverse forms on moons and dwarf planets.
- Note: A Spanish version of this poster is available here.
- Note: A Spanish version of this poster is available here.
Flip through this slideshow to see what we know about ocean worlds in our solar system.