Saturn’s Moon, Enceladus, Is Our Closest Great Hope For Life Beyond Earth (Synopsis) [Starts With A Bang]

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Saturn’s Moon, Enceladus, Is Our Closest Great Hope For Life Beyond Earth (Synopsis) [Starts With A Bang]

“Aha! That satellite was scuttled on Enceladus, Saturn’s main dump moon!” -Professor Farnsworth, Futurama

When you think about life beyond Earth, you likely think of it occurring on a somewhat Earth-like planet. A rocky world, with either a past or present liquid ocean atop the surface, seems ideal. But that might not even be where life on Earth originated! Deep beneath the Earth’s surface, geologically active hydrothermal vents currently support diverse colonies of life without any energy from the Sun. Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus, has a subsurface ocean unlike any other world we’ve yet discovered.

An image of an eruption on Enceladus' surface (L) shown alongside a simulation of the curtain-like eruption from Earth-based scientists (R). Image credit: NASA / Cassini-Huygens mission / Imaging Science Subsystem.

An image of an eruption on Enceladus’ surface (L) shown alongside a simulation of the curtain-like eruption from Earth-based scientists (R). Image credit: NASA / Cassini-Huygens mission / Imaging Science Subsystem.

The tidal forces of Saturn itself provide the necessary heat, and also create cracks in the Enceladean surface, enabling massive geysers. This subsurface ocean rises hundreds of kilometers high, regularly resurfaces the world with a coat of fresh ice, and even creates the E-ring of Saturn. But most spectacularly, it may house actively living organisms, and could be the next-best world for life, after Earth, in the Solar System today.

Saturn's E-Ring, as imaged here by Cassini, is created by it's frozen Moon, Enceladus, ejecting icy material over time. Enceladus is the bright spot at the image's center. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Saturn’s E-Ring, as imaged here by Cassini, is created by it’s frozen Moon, Enceladus, ejecting icy material over time. Enceladus is the bright spot at the image’s center. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Come get the full story on Enceladus, and welcome Starts With A Bang’s newest contributor, the remarkable Jesse Shanahan!

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Published at Tue, 04 Apr 2017 14:00:21 +0000