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. Jazzzzzzzz

    Sounds promising. I'm going.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    I'm sure that's its a scientific error.
    If a moon of Saturn could support life, that information would be in the Bible: OT, probably.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • 3lwood


      June 24, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • gearkat

      Just goes to show the Bible was written by cleaver humans, but could only manipulate what they knew.

      June 24, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    "that it's"

    June 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jazzzzzzzz

    Joey? If you're not going to wright correctly and not make any sense,please just shut up.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • reese


      June 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • wrong

      its write.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wow

      It's WRITE, m-o-r-o-n.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    God made the typo happen.
    I wrote, "that it's."
    Lord, I believe.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    "...that it's..."

    June 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    that it's

    June 24, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jazzzzzzzz

    @Joey Troll? I am confused. I can't tell who's real and who's not real anymore. I don't feel like posting like this. Bye all.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • JasonB

      The distinction between troll and schizophrenic is a thin, blurry line.

      June 24, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Trying to fix typo.
    Being censored.
    "...that it's..."

    June 24, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    I'm reel, Jazzzzzzz.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jazzzzzzzz

    No troll. The real Joey knows "real" from "reel". Bye troll.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JeromeN

    I love how on CNN message boards, people spend 90% of the time arguing about people's grammatical errors rather than the actual topic. A ton of maturity on these boards.

    And yes, i completed University, and no I did not spell/grammar check my post thus any errors are due to fast typing and/or not caring what people think.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scottydog


      June 24, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      If you don't care what people think, why do you post your thoughts in public?

      June 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • YouCantNeverTell

      Fortunately you've grown to the point where others' opinions aren't that important to you.

      June 24, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jason

    Salt water ocean eh? That's pretty exciting stuff.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rob W

    Per NASA info, Crinoid-like life was already known to exist on Mars. The evidence, which you may find through a quick search, are photographs taken of fossils by a rover. The religious right might say that the flood could be interpreted to have taken place on Mars. Whaaaaat

    June 24, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Evolily

      I suppose you also believed the Face on Mars, eh?

      that photo does not look like a fossil to a trained individual. It looks like a rock pattern with lots of shadows. And even if it did look like a fossil, the only way we would know it was, in fact, a fossil would be to thoroughly examine it.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joe

    There is a lot of life out there beyond Earth. Pray to whatever God you believe none of the more malicious intelligences ever find out or they'll wipe us out like you do to an ant hill in the front lawn.

    June 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
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