Scientists: Saturn moon could support life
NASA's Cassini space probe snapped this photo of jets spewing from Enceladus, one of Saturn's 53 moons.
June 24th, 2011
03:49 PM ET

Scientists: Saturn moon could support life

That's one small step for microbes, one giant leap for mankind's search for extraterrestrial life.

NASA's Saturn-exploring Cassini spacecraft has gathered new evidence that conditions on Enceladus, one of Saturn's 53 named moons, could support life, said Dr. Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini Imaging Team at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

"On Enceladus we have conditions under the surface that we know could be enjoyed by organisms similar to types of organisms we find right here on Earth," she said Friday.

Several years ago, Cassini, launched in 1997, spotted jet sprays shooting out of fissures called tiger stripes in Enceladus' southern polar region. Lighter particles from those jets provide most of the material for Saturn's outermost ring, called the E ring. But heavier particles fall back to the moon's surface, Porco explained. Cassini took measurements of the spray during three passes and found a greater concentration of sodium and potassium grains (that is, salt) nearer Enceladus' surface than farther out, according to a paper published in this week's edition of the journal Nature.

"There currently is no plausible way to produce a steady outflow of salt-rich grains from solid ice across all the tiger stripes other than saltwater under Enceladus' icy surface," Frank Postberg, a Cassini team scientist at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and the lead author on the paper, said in an article on NASA's website.

"This finding is a crucial new piece of evidence showing that environmental conditions favorable to the emergence of life can be sustained on icy bodies orbiting gas giant planets," Nicolas Altobelli, the European Space Agency's project scientist for Cassini, added in the same article.

Of the particles that fall to the surface, 99% are salty; that means the water must be in contact with rock, which would create all the necessary conditions for life, Porco said.

"It's falling like snow," she said. "It's not crazy to think we could have snowing microbes."

Porco advocates sending a probe to land in Enceladus' tiger-stripe region to find out, because the evidence is so accessible.

"I think we should go directly to Enceladus," she said. "We should not pass 'Go,' we should not collect $200. ...

"All you have to do is land on the surface and stick your tongue out to sample the habitable zone," she said.

Porco, who has been working on the Cassini team for 21 years, hopes to live long enough to see definitive evidence for "a second genesis in our solar system."

"It would answer one of the greatest questions people have been asking ever since we could ask questions," she said.

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Filed under: Science • Space
soundoff (392 Responses)
  1. Kebos

    This is huge. Stop wars and use that money to explore space. Find life on other planets. Go!

    June 24, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Netr0

      Why fight each other, when we could find life on other planets and destroy it instead.

      June 24, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • DevilsHalo

      Kebos, that is an admirable thought but war is in the human blood. Our genes are geared toward survival and that includes "acquiring resources" if that leads to conflicts (wars) then so be it. It has been proven throughout history and mankind. Animals will fight for territory in order to survive. It's all about resources and the greed of the human experiment.

      June 24, 2011 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • ric

      if humans can't get along togther non earth , I doubt they will get along with aliens from another planet.

      June 24, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • lefty avenger

      That's right President Obama bring all the troops home and lets go to outer space!

      June 25, 2011 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. DevilsHalo

    If anyone wants to expand some knowledge on life or human existence, I truly recommend reading the "Earth Chronicles" written by Zecharia Sitchin. Loading with information and history. That is if you want to expand your knowledge and understand of life.

    June 24, 2011 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • earth2loons

      Sitchin explains human origins in fictional terms of a race of extra-terrestrials from a planet beyond Neptune called Nibiru. Inhabitants of Nibiru came to earth and settled in ancient Sumeria. We are supposedly descendants of these aliens. Obviously, his hypotheses are not accepted by scientists and academics but rather dismissed as pseudoscience and pseudohistory. Don't waste your time or money.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • CF

      Sounds like L. Ron Hubbard.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. LowKeyinAZ

    The problem isn't finding this stuff, Mars could support life as could Europa with a little human help. The problem is how do you get billions of people from Earth to wherever.

    June 24, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Netr0

      Billions, let alone one. We do not have the means for inter galactic travel in a reasonable form.

      June 24, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • DevilsHalo

      It wont be billions my friend. It will only be a select few that will be responsible for spreading the human race. That is the truth and facts of life. The strong will only survive, and what I mean by "strong" is either politically powerful, financially strong, or intellectual disciplined.

      June 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • David55

      If life exists on another planet, it pretty much guarantees theres some intelligent life out there, and puts one of the final nails in "God's" coffin.

      June 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Abednigo

      @David55 – looks like you've got 'God' in a pretty small box to begin with. How does life on another planet disprove a Creator's existence? My God is bigger than yours.

      June 24, 2011 at 11:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Miami Mike

      @David55 – What part of finding life on other planets means that God doesn't exist? The two are not mutually exclusive.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
  4. Badeley-Bent

    I wish we would have a base station ready to land on a comet so we could gather information from deep space. A probe landed on Enceladus wouldn't be a bad idea either!

    June 24, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Barney

    You folks are still waisting money on your Hobby, that is all there is to it, it has to be a Hobby. Please read one verse in the Bible and you will know there is no life out there, read Genesis 3:20 Eve was the Mother of ALL LIVING, and if the Bible is true and we believe it is then if someone is out there they came from here. Mother Earth. remember ALL lLIVING.

    June 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • DevilsHalo

      In the beginning
      Elohim created the heaven and earth
      and the earth was without form and void
      and darkness was upon the face of Tehom
      and the wind of the Lord swept over it's waters

      June 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Evan

      Barney, most intelligent people do not believe the fairy tales in The Bible.

      June 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • mother of four

      Hi Evan. Intelligent person here. I don't believe in fairy tales; I do believe that the Bible is inspired by God. I don't believe it was all intended to be taken literally (specifically the creation story).

      That said, assuming that there was an Adam and Eve at some point in time–Eve was named by Adam as the mother of all living. Nowhere in the Bible does it indicate that Adam was omniscient and could see into the rest of God's creation. Adam could only identify what he saw with his own eyes.

      Me, I'm good either way. If there is life out there, fine–it's as God intended it to be. And if there is not, then I'm okay with that. Study a little physical science and astronomy and you'll learn that the very fact that we're here at all, is remarkable.

      June 24, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • David55

      doesnt that mean that if we find life out there, the bible is wrong? cant wait until they find it.

      June 24, 2011 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Confused

      This confuses me. Are you asserting that Eve is the mother of frogs and trees, or are you asserting that frogs and trees are not living? Neither proposition seems completely persuasive to me. Are you sure that's what the Bible means? I'm not sure you've thought about this very carefully.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Abednigo

      Barney – dont just read your Bible, but think: Eve came after Adam and a lot of creation in Genesis. That verse does not preclude God creating anything else.

      David – I share in your excitement to find life outside earth, but do not see how this disproves anything in the Bible. Your hopes are unfounded unless you have some biblical insight to suggest otherwise.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom California

      Sorry to burst your bubble but it also says in the bible "other people I have which are not of this world". I think is found if the book of James. Also the bible is fiction.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      Which translation are you using?

      June 25, 2011 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Abednigo

      @ Tom – as long as we're quoting the Bible out of context, it also calls you a doubter (John 20:27). This finding does not challenge my belief at all and my bubble is not burst.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jack

    Some of our technology could be from studying alien technolopy such as lasers and night vision.

    June 24, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • SB

      Hate to disappoint you, Jack, but there's nothing extraterrestrial about those technologies. Both have roots in the work of Einstein, from 1905. Honestly, I don't understand why, in this day and age of instant information, people still insist on making wild, crazy guesses about these things. You could have just looked it up for yourself.

      June 24, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      Theres nothing disappointing about that haha, you said this is the age of instant information. I just learned something, from you commenting. People insist on making wild crazy guesses is because their imagination is wide and they have already learnt how to express themselves. If we didnt, we would be in the Dark Ages right now. Physics appeared with wild crazy guesses and so did finding food. If we didnt make take a chance to eat a strawberry back in caveman ages( I dont even think they had strawberries back then) then we wouldnt be enjoying it right now.

      June 24, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Evan

      Also, you're a slow learner.

      June 24, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      Wow I'm a slow learner, if I'm a slow learner what does that make you? I learn slow, and you call me a slow learner, you finally caught on...haha

      June 25, 2011 at 2:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. DevilsHalo

    AHHH, God was mentioned in a post, interesting. But you have to ask yourself what is the meaning of god? For all we now as human, a form of god in our own right here on earth. Is are we just and experiment from another race who periodically checks on us. (UFO sightings).......hhhhmmmmm debate for thought.

    June 24, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Evan

      Not debatable at all.....also, you're a slow learner.

      June 24, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • MostPeopleAreStupid

      lol@"debate for thought"

      June 25, 2011 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  8. Henk in Colorado

    Could support life? Yes, theoretical it can, but that also can be said about Capitol Hill in DC, and it has been proven over and over again that there isn't. Keep looking though!

    June 24, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ELFINSONG

    To minimize fuel usage piggyback on an outgoing comet or astroid.
    Repeat on an incoming to return

    My problem with the idea of landing there is no one mentioned an atmosphere with oxygen to sustain us.
    Terra-forming would likely be a necessity if we wanted to populate such a moon

    June 24, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  10. wishing

    The International space Station should be a quarantine area for any ship returning to earth from anywhere else. We should not even have ships returning directly from the moon without stopping and getting checked over and or cleaned out.

    June 24, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • SB

      Do you really think that the vacuum of space, bathed in the full fury of the Sun's radiation, is less sterile than an artificial environment made for humans to survive in? Humans who breathe in and out, eat, sneeze, cough, pass waste from their bodies, and so on?

      June 24, 2011 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
  11. max

    I hate how scientists assume life needs the same building blocks that we have on Earth

    June 24, 2011 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • SB

      Max, your post is a mistake many people make. There are something like 2.5 million different species of life known to us. You know what they all have in common? Earth. The only examples of life we have to look at all come from here. Therefore, when searching the unimaginable vastness of the universe for life, where would YOU begin? At random? By assuming that life will be UNLIKE the only 2.5 million examples you have? No, of course not. Not unless you're crazy. You would begin by looking for conditions like those found here.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
  12. Edd

    Cool! There's no intelligent life down here, Scotty. Beam me up and let's go.

    June 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Tom California

    I love how defensive the religious are when there is a scientific discovery that would challenge what they believe.

    June 25, 2011 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Unlike Mike

      Some of us religious people have responded to anti-religious statements posted first. Many of us have simply said that the possiblity of life elsewhere doesn't test our faith.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. Flyfisherman Joe

    Salt water, eh? Does this mean I can finally find a spot that hasn't been overfished?

    June 25, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
  15. TG

    Because there seems to be water on Saturn's moon, Enceladus, does that mean that it can sustain life ? In a word No. An atmosphere like our own has not been found anywhere nor will it ever be. The composition of our atmosphere of 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, with the rest carbon dioxide and other inert gases, will not be found in any system in the universe. The earth is unique anywhere, having a gravitational pull precisely necessary for life to counter the spinning motion of the earth.

    The moon's dimensions, that it is 1/4 the size the earth, is now understood to be critical to the very existence of life on the earth. It's gravitational exertion upon the earth causes the tides to flow back and forth, keeps the earth from tilting no more than the vital 23.5, causing the four seasons. Without the moon's gravitational force, the earth's tilt would wobble, over long periods of time "nearly 0 degrees to 85 degrees", according to the scientific journal Nature.

    Non of this came about by accident, for the earth's uniqueness is a designed arrangement, with all the features necessary for life to exist, by our Creator, Jehovah God. Proverbs 3:19 says that "Jehovah himself in wisdom founded the earth. He solidly fixed the heavens in discernment."

    June 25, 2011 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Unlike Mike

      TG you make a few good points about how well suited our planet is to life, especially to human and animal life. However, the current composition of our atmosphere was not always what it is now. the oxygen we have today was built up here by early forms of plant life that did just fine with a different mix of gasses. There are also forms of life discovered on earth that live in rocks deep in the ground or far below the deepest part of the ocean that could care less what the seasons are and have no need for oxygen. The kinds of life scientists are hoping to find on other planets and moons would be similar to these forms of life. Extremophiles, mainly microbial type life, can exist in very inhospitable places. how amazing it would be if they could also exist in a moon circling a distant planet far removed from our sun. Man needs Earth to be as it is, not all life does.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
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