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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soundoff (392 Responses)
  1. Haywood Jablomey

    If we found a creature on Enceladus that had half the brain-body ratio of a porpoise or a bonobo,
    there would be hue and cry about finding intelligent extraterrestrial life, blah, blah blah.
    Why, then, are we so contemptuous about what we have in our on backyard?

    The surest sign of intelligent life elsewhere in the univers,
    is the fact that none of it has tried to contact us, nor has responded to our attempts to contact them.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • anobody

      Maybe nobody wants to play with us.

      June 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @haywood: bitter much?

      June 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cia

      Clearly you have no comprehension of how large the universe actually is and how little advance space tech we have

      June 24, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sid

      Do you even know how vast the Universe is?
      Traveling to Andromeda at speed of light would take 600,000 years.
      It could take millions of years to send a signal an reach us. Our own galaxy has 500 million to a billion planets. and there are trillion galaxies in the observable Universe.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ronnie

      The nearest star to us is 4 light years away. Meaning, if we sent a message, it would take 4 years to reach that star, and assuming that the message is intercepted and understood by a capable intelligent life, who then respond, the response would take another 4 years to reach us. That a 8 year round trip. The universe is a big big place. The chances of communicating with another life form in our life times are very very remote, unless we develop techniques to make things travel much much faster than the speed of light, which is impossible with our current knowledge.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • phearis

      Humans are nothing more than paranoid psychotic ape creatures bent on self destruction and consumed with our own self importance. The human race has only been around for 200,000 years, the Earth for 4.5-Billion and the Universe for 13.7-Billion. No intelligent life in the Universe would want anything to do with our child race.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • NOLA1992Man

      Dolphins is goo-oo-ood EATIN'

      June 24, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • StarShooter

      Sid: Andromeda is our sister galaxy. It is about 2.5 MILLION light-years from the Milky Way (our home galaxy). Not 600,000 years. Light and audio/video waves are all a part of the EMS (electro-magnetic radiation spectrum) and all travel (in a vacuum) at light speed. Thus, it would take any form of communication (audio/video/light) the same 2.5 million years for a one-way trip.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sid

      @starshooter – Ooops...I was wrong its 2.5 million light years. Thanx for correcting me.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shawn

      That shows a pretty thorough lack of understanding of just how vast the universe is. We can't just pick up a cell phone and dial a nearby star. All we can do is send signals into broad areas of the universe and wait for hundreds of years for those signals to arrive, be recieved and "hopefully" be responded too. Even if an alien species got our earliest transmissions this afternoon it would be ten to twenty years before we could get a response.

      June 24, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Peter E

    The problem is that 'sustaining' life and 'starting' life are not the same thing. While current Earth supports life under conditions that can be found on multiple places in the solar system, early Earth was very different, much warmer, with different atmospheric and oceanic chemistry. True, Enceladus itself probably had a very different early history than its current state. So life is not excluded.
    We probably won't confirm extra-terretrial life until it, quite literally, stares us in the face.
    Yes, I am a scientist.

    June 24, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • PlanetDude

      I suspect that life originates frequently, but that only a few environments are stable enough to support it over the billions of years needed for the development of "intelligent" life. That or the "intelligent" species always wind up killing themselves off. Not unlikely given the track we're on.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alienxfb14

      Ya, because the human population on Earth is dwindling and in danger!!

      June 24, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter E

      If you read the history of the Cold War, you'll see how close we came multiple times to wiping human civilization off the place of the planet. And that's just in the last half century. Compare that to the billions of years life has been on this planet, and the thousands of years it took humans just to get to the technology capable of interstellar communication.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sid

      Think of a civilization that evolved for couple of billion years. Since we modern humans are about 100,000 years old, say if we go for another 200,000 and then realize how world would look like.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter E

      Just two of the more famous examples of several to look up: Vasili Arkhipov and K-19, and Operation Giant Lance. Both relied on just very few people keeping cool enough NOT to start an all-out nuclear war.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Sid, I sincerely doubt ANY civilization that remained on its planet would survive long enough to see 2 billion years of civilization. Consider Earth as an example, or more accurately, our sun. In one billion years, it will make the Earth utterly uninhabitable, as it will be entering its red giant phase. Shortly after that, the Earth would be inside of the corona and rapidly have its orbit decay into the sun.
      Mars would be too hot to survive on as well. Jupiter will still be too radiation rich to live near. That leaves the outer planets moons to try to settle on or seek another solar system.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sid

      @Wzrd1 – That is right but what about red dwarfs? They are known to burn for a long long time. Any rocky world with a Jupiter mass gas giant in their solar system might help them sustain for long. But yes, 2 billion is a lot though.
      Never know what comes, we found planets on Pulsars, that's weird too.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter E

      The problem with red dwarves is that they form a system that already has very low mass, i.e. the chances of a terrestrial planet forming with sufficient mass to retain an atmosphere necessary to retain liquid water and hence life are hugely diminished. But yes, red dwarves are inherently much more stable in their stellar evolution and can allow for longer biological evolution of their respective planetary systems.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sid

      And what about Gliese 581g? I heard it is at least 3 times massive than Earth and lies in the middle of a habitable zone. How long would it take for confirmation?

      June 24, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bad Chinese

    Uh ... can I go there and live?

    June 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • PlanetDude

      Brig your snow shovel!

      June 24, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Limbaugh is a liberal

    It is amusing that the same red-staters who most claim that God created Earth, humans are unique, and life is only 6000 years old, are also the ones most likely to claim that they have seen ET and that the government is covering it up.
    And of course, ET always prefers to stay criptic, leave us messages in crop circles (because obviously ET doesn't believe we are capable of normal communication) wants to learn about us by probing farmers (instead of just watching our TV signals) and of course wants to reproduce by impregnating us with parasite alien babies, despite the fact that genetically it is impossible to create a hybrid of two far-off species of animals homegrown here on Earth!

    June 24, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alienxfb14

      I was waiting to see who turned this article into a political issue. Congratulations, you win!

      June 24, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Limbaugh is a liberal

      Dude, you haven't read the very FIRSTpage of comments. I am NOT the first by a long shot!

      June 24, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. boxerdad

    waste of money solve problems here on earth

    June 24, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • PlanetDude

      Basic research is never a waste of money. It has always paid off and always will. Why do you think China is spending like mad on science including space exploration?

      June 24, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sid

      Its waste for you because you are not educated enough to make a career in science.
      You can't spend a day without using the products due to science and research.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Terry Brookman

    This is great but we are killing off life here, there seems to be a conflict of some kind. LOL

    June 24, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • MOCaseA

      So if this exploration were to lead to the discovery of a microbe that could eat our every-day garbage and it's byproduct was high-quality crude oil, would it still be a waste of time?

      What if the supposed microbe held a protein that was directly related to curing all form of cancer without the need for Chemo or invasive surgeries?

      What if instead of finding a microbe, we discovered that Enceladus holds a form of heavy water that is 1,000% more effective than Uranium, lasts 100x longer, and had little to no radioactive byproduct?

      Would it be worth it then?

      June 24, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • MOCaseA

      Sorry, that was suppoed to go to boxerdad

      June 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • NOLA1992Man

      Yeah, but dolphins is some mighty fine goo-oo-ood EATIN'

      June 24, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bie

      MOCaseA – Surely that's the exact problem? Humans can't 'discover' anything without getting greedy, thinking about how they can use it to their own advantage, and controlling/destroying it, messing with nature, in the process.

      I'd be all for making contact with extra-terrestrial life for the sake of education and interest, but I'm very much against the idea of bringing that life to Earth for our benefit, or mining other planets for our own use. We're already ruining this one – why not leave the others alone?

      We're dangerous people.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Rhiannon

    Presuming that conditions support and harbour life on a body like Enceladus; why make fun of the idea?
    Life does not have sentient (as we understand it) to be alive. These "new" discoveries and theories are the product of an era of exploration that most do not understand or accept.

    June 24, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Personally, I'm thinking TOTALLY COOL! Now, they need to detect something like amino acid chains to give even MORE of a reason to explore under that ice.
      Consider the lessons we've learned here on Earth, where for generations, scientists said nothing could be alive at condition X (abyssal trenches, a mile under ground, in hot geysers, etc), only to finally LOOK and see those "uninhabitable" places teeming with life. Even inside of the radioactive remains of the Chernobyl plant!
      Of course, the trick is to not accidentally contaminate that moon while studying it.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rhiannon

    I meant to say "fully undrestand, appreciate or accept as of yet".

    June 24, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DBM

    I hope they have oil.

    June 24, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Terry Brookman

    We fight and kill each other over stuff here but why not stop and go out there and mine for billions upon billions of tons of stuff out there? We have the technology to do that, we really do so lets do it.

    June 24, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • PlanetDude

      Because then we might buy fewer cars and HD TV sets.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leonardo

      I agree with you. But the thing is, the government doesn't want to show off what technology they have. They actually have way advanced technology then us regular people. Did you know that they have been hiding aliens, mysterious creatures, and UFO's? They have caught some aliens and see what they can do, they have found clues years ago to lead up to finding mysterious creatures, and they have captured UFO's by over demand from there leader of the government? They just don't tell us because of the fact that we would feel terrified and angry at them for not advising us before, so they think we would probably start a war and it would end up very nasty. The truth is, the government doesn't tell us about anything, that's why we still didn't move on to a different planet to live on. They would have the technology ready when they need it for an emergency, so we could go and search for stuff in the Universe. I've seen some stuff like UFO's before, ( U-nidentified F-lying O-bjects ) so trust me they always have been keeping secrets away from us.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darren

      I don't think we really do have such technology. Billions of tons of minerals from space are nice, but it's prohibitively expensive. We have the technology to build a pontoon bridge across the pacific ocean, but is anybody really going to do it? It would be pointless.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duhhhhh!!!

      Because we DO NOT have the technology to do that yet!!..Or we already would be. We cannot even send a crew to Mars yet. Humanity is a long way from colonizing or mining other planets..heck we do not even understand our own yet.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Leonardo, the government has all this high tech science stuff like flying saucers, phasers and photon torpedoes, yet uses bullets and grunts in these wars, huh?
      I'll give you a hint, over my 27+ year military career, I've saw a few aircraft that "weren't there" and "didn't exist". They weren't space alien induced, created or even hinted of, they were high tech aircraft for certain rather secret missions, such as the SR-71 and even the helicopters that paid a house call to OBL.
      To think that somehow, the government caught space aliens, who had the technology to traverse stellar distances, FOUGHT with them and survived is beyond laughable. Just lighting up one of their flying saucer engines would've taken care of any troops!
      No, you are deluded, either by intention or more likely, due to living in an untreated delusional state.
      They DO have treatments for that though. You should try them and live life here in the real world along with the rest of us.

      June 24, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Limbaugh is a liberal

    ET is not in the Bible! It's a heresy! Enceladus is not in the Bible! It's a heresy! iPhones and SUVs and NASCAR and oil rigs and stocks and CNN.com are not in the Bible! They are all heresies!

    June 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • MOCaseA

      You are not in the bible, you are heresy!

      June 24, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      My flatulence is not in the bible, it most certainly IS heresy!

      June 24, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. whatwhatwhatyo

    I will continue to say if we humans are considered the most intelligent life in the universe than some higher power F up.

    June 24, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. alienbrother

    Billions of years old, we've been here approximately 6000 years in our current state (approx) ever hear about the Ancient alien theory? Don't be so naive, advanced beings have been to this earth, again and again, they tried and they tried, and finally managed to make us in their own image, we, are the aliens, no hybrid about it anymore. Mtyhical creatures are not mythical at all, they were mistakes until they got the combination right. After people, it takes about 2000 years for the earth to get rid of most of what they would leave behind, we've been populated time and time again and the proof is here... you are just ignorant and don't know about it, because you blindly believe what you are told through religion. With more stars than grains of sand, galaxies that reach into invisibility that we have already seen through Hubble, don't be so naive. Of course there is life out there, and an increasing amount of scientists have finally conceded to that possibility – but as one person here says, until it stares us in the face, small minded people like some of those leaving comments here, who don't have the ability to imagine such a thing, would prefer to believe that we were created by some celestial being. How arrogant are you to say anything about what may or may not be out there, given the infancy stage in which we exist and compared to the age of the Universe as a whole. Blind leading the blind right enough... born into religion, sports teams, cities you tout as being the best in the world, simply because that's what's been passed on to you, and you'll pass on to yours. How very ignorant and close minded. Free your mind.

    June 24, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • NOLA1992Man

      But like they're saying above- there might be dolphins. And dolphins is some dang yummy goo-oo-ood EATIN'.

      If them there aliens wanted good snacks they should have stuck to dolphins and cattle.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • :)

      Awesome post Alien Brother...keep em coming!!

      June 24, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eugenehowel

      I agree with what you said 100%.

      June 24, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Uh huh. So, we're all cylon centurians or something, huh?
      Bleh.

      June 24, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  14. There are no gods!

    This is great news! My idea is to send all of the religious believers on this planet to Enceladus to worship and destroy each other and let the rest of us live in peace.

    June 24, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leonardo

      Yes there is god!!! You don't believe in God? You must be very insane because God created all mankind, all of the parts in the Universe, everything!! In fact in the bible it says he spends 6 days to create every thing, and the 7 day he rests, thats why most people go to church on Sundays. But the bad part is that people that don't go to the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, actually doesn't go to the real church God wants us to go to. This church here that i'm talking about is the church that im going to, but im not just saying this church is true because i go to it, im saying that it is the right church for everyone. It teaches the right gospel, its the one. But the thing is that you have to get baptized when your 8. If your pass 8 you still could get baptized. I so far am living my life good with this true church, and i always will go to this church. If you really are interested, then email me at Lcarreracarrera@aim.com , or leohileo@aol.com . We would love to have more members to the church, the thing is that our church is world wide, not like some random church that has a name and only exist in that place that it was built, the church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints is everywhere part of the world.

      June 24, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      Leonardo, for a flying saucer believer that thinks that the US government captured mork from ork or something, somehow, I'm not shocked that you believe in the invisible book that only three people ever saw and could read...

      June 24, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    But only God can make a tree.

    June 24, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wzrd1

      It's an old Vulcan proverb, "Only Nixon could go to China".

      June 24, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
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