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Is there life on Enceladus?

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Is there life on Enceladus?

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Esa/Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft has gathered strong evidence that Saturn’s tiny moon Enceladus retains water in liquid form. The probe has detected sodium salts, which appear to spew from the south pole of the moon. Water in prolonged contact with rock will eventually become salty – in exactly the same way as the Earth’s oceans have become salty over time.

Scientists told Nature magazine that the liquid water may be found in caverns just below the surface of the moon. And in this water, it might be possible that signs of life could be found. Scientists confirmed through the orbiter’s optical cameras, that spectacular geysers at its south pole are spewing wispy fingers of bright ice particles and vapour tens of thousands of kilometres outwards making a major contribution to Saturn’s outermost ring. Very high amounts of salt were found in the icy grains along with other materials and components. The implication which excites scientists is that extensive amounts of water, in the form of oceans or lakes, must be present in the interior of Enceladus or just below its ice crust. Multiple fractures slash across the moon’s South Polar Region, and there are fine-scale structures near its geysers. Numerous smooth plains and the relative absence of large craters indicate that these regions are relatively young, meaning that Enceladus must have been active quite recently with some kind of “water volcanism” or tectonic activity which has renewed its surface. As the Cassini spacecraft continues its mission around Saturn, these latest suppositions about pre-biotic conditions on Enceladus refuel interest in the icy moon. But the jury is still out, because other scientists doing ground-based observations have not found signs of sodium, an important component of salt. If however these results are confirmed, they are quite stunning. They mean that the Saturnian satellite may be one of the most promising places in the Solar System to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. And all these results have been obtained remotely. Using the Cassini orbiter there’s no need to drill into the sub-surface of a moon: the dust particles alone collected many millions of kilometres away can help reveal its innermost secrets. Could there be life on Enceladus?