Since NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spotted plumes of water spewing out of cracks in Enceladus’ surface roughly a decade ago, Saturn’s icy moon has captured the imaginations of scientists and layfolk alike who wondered whether liquid water – and how much of it – could lie hidden beneath the frigid exterior.

Now, through a careful analysis of more than seven years’ worth of images, a team of scientists has found that Enceladus harbors a global ocean – far more extensive than the southern sea that researchers described just last year.

The findings, released online by the journal Icarus, could shed light on the internal dynamics of one of the few worlds in our solar system with the potential to host life.

Enceladus is one of several icy “water worlds” in our solar system, such as Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede, that appear to host liquid water beneath their frozen shells. If they also contain the right chemical ingredients, they could, hypothetically speaking, be habitable for microbial life. Enceladus has been caught periodically squirting water out of slits in its southern pole since 2005, and since then, Cassini has also found signs of simple organic molecules in that plume and hydrothermal activity beneath the surface.

Enceladus has all the ingredients for a potentially habitable environment But the question is, has that habitable environment been around long enough for microbial life to arise?