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. Droid

    There are more beings in space. We are just to focused on our selves and greed to discover them. This earth is like a elementary school for human beings. God exists but not the bearded guy we describe. God is honestly Mother nature all around us everyday. There are multiple Gods not just ONE. I embrace death because death makes us evolve into higher beings that is why i said we are elementary beings. We are not advanced. This technology is just making us more elementary and stupid.

    June 25, 2011 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Droid

      We humans are ONE indeed so we could be a form of God that is true. But not immortal.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • LivingWater

      You are crazy.

      June 25, 2011 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Carlos Quintero

      Well said Droid. I am very happy to hear somebody say that. I know in my heart that The universe is GOD's body.

      June 25, 2011 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
    • MrId

      Foolish Droid, I am the only thing that exists. You are all just creations of my mind to give me reference in-which to navigate the four deminsions. Now if you'll excuse me, I must create a hot tube full of apple juice and Playboy bunnies.......

      June 25, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Amused

      You have got to be a Scientologist...

      June 25, 2011 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Technology makes us "dumber" and more "elementary" is a pretty lame assertion. Technology allows humans to build off of one anothers achievements and so it allows humankind to achieve exponentially more in the long run. I look at it in a programming sense... you should solve a problem once (e.g. write a function to solve a particular problem, or make a technological tool to solve a problem) so that resources are not wasted trying to solve the same problem more than once. It would just be pure stupidity to expend resources on solving the same lower level (I would call this elementary... not the way you use the word) problems over and over and not be able to reach the more advanced problems down the road. Humans would have hit a wall a while ago if it were not for technology. And... the "God" b.s. you spout is laughable. There are laws that govern physics – these control everything, even the molecular interactions in your noggin that make you "believe" in some fairy tale theory. Just because you don't know how it works, you shouldn't come up with some irrational and illogical belief system to make it work in your head (this is how religion came into being in the first place). This type of thinking is and has been horrible for the advancement of humankind.

      June 25, 2011 at 3:20 am | Report abuse |
  2. Dave from Los Angeles

    answersingenesis.org

    icr.org

    June 25, 2011 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      To anyone who wants a bit of a laugh, and see just how insane Answers in Genesis can get, look up "A new cosmology: solution to the starlight travel time problem"
      (answersingenesis (dot ) org /home/area/magazines/tj/docs/v17n2_cosmology (dot ) pdf )

      Now go to "equations" 1 and 2. Yes, those are partial derivatives... with only one variable. Basically, creationist "math" goes something like this.

      1) Pick an arbitrary ratio for the "time on earth" and "time in universe".
      2) Put a partial derivative there to make it look fancy.
      3) ???
      4) Integrate the inverse of the ratio from 0 to a day (in years)... omit c. (math professors are crying right now)
      5) Say 30 billion years.
      6 Profit?

      Kinda funny considering that the universe itself is only 13.7 billion years in the first place. But considering how arbitrary the number selection was in the first place, and how transparently silly the math is to anyone with more than two weeks worth of an introductory calculus class, I don't think real numbers matter too much to the people at "Answers" in Genesis.

      June 25, 2011 at 3:22 am | Report abuse |
    • 5thApe

      AIG = how to twist science to fit bronze aged myths.

      June 25, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mearder

    @Droid

    YOU RE AN IDIOT
    THIS IS WONDERFUL
    I AM GLAD AT LEAST WE RE UNDERSTANDING MORE AND EVEN ABLE TO DETECT ONCOMING ASTEROIDS AND WE VE DISCOVERED HUNDREDS OF PLANETS SO FAR
    THAT TO ME IS WONDERFUL

    June 25, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Droid

      You could argue all you want. Technology only made a select few of the human beings smarter the rest much more dumber.

      June 25, 2011 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
    • youreallsheep

      More dumber...

      June 25, 2011 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Beefburger

      You have that phase wrong, you meant to say "more dumberer".

      June 25, 2011 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
    • JG

      Technology advances all of humanity. To assert otherwise is quite idiotic.

      June 25, 2011 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
  4. -A.R Maryland

    This is great and all but the headline should be: "Saturn moon could support microscopic life". We dont want people to think that we could colonize this moon and there tasty alien fishes just waiting to be eaten.

    June 25, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Unlike Mike

      Yummmmmm....tasty alien fishes.......!

      June 25, 2011 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
    • stuff

      I agree with that, because most of the population is science illiterate and get their "scientific knowledge" from alien movies

      June 25, 2011 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
    • JG

      Wow, but wouldn't that be something, though? We get there and there really are fish-like creatures swimming all over the place? Complex multicelled organisms on a body within our own system would be quite . . . awesome.

      June 25, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
  5. 12-21-12

    Hey, let's pollute another planet! This one is just about all used up! If there's any oil there, you aliens better attack us NOW!

    June 25, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
  6. Beefburger

    Maybe we should leave it the fuk alone? Imagine aliens landing on Earth when there was just the primordial ooze. What chanegs would be caused way down the line for the pursuit of self-absorbed science?

    June 25, 2011 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
    • cosmic

      I'm with you Beefburger. We should tread very carefully so as not to upset the delicate stages of development if there is life. We could conceivable alter their evolution. We have had multiple mass extinctions here and only by the grace of the CEO(cosmic enginerr omnipotent) we are here. We should observe from afar and just watch and learn.
      On the other hand I thinks it's great that we have the science to discover that we may not be an anomaly.

      June 25, 2011 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
    • JG

      Who's to say we weren't tampered with while we were primordial? It would certainly explain why it is our one species of ape all of the sudden took off like scientific rockets while the rest of life on this planet evolves along nominal paths.

      June 25, 2011 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  7. Quincey9

    I'd love it if we could spend that money fixing our own planet instead of fartin' around with the rest of the universe. What are we going to tell future generations? Sorry that the planets a mess, the air isn't breathable and the water is too dangerous to drink, but that tiny frozen planet up there seems to have tiny little shrimp like bugs living under the ice... we think. Feel better now?

    June 25, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Beefburger

      Thats the other side of the coin. Why can't we just leave sh!t(HA! @Herbie) alone and keep our racial ADD under control and maybe get things taken care of here first before taking our deep seated psychoses to other worlds?

      June 25, 2011 at 5:23 am | Report abuse |
  8. kazz

    cool!

    June 25, 2011 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. Herbie Walker

    I can't believe BEEFBURGER got away with using the f-word.

    Heroic stuff, really.

    June 25, 2011 at 1:56 am | Report abuse |
  10. Willy

    Nice, an inhabitable planet. Can we send the Tea Party there?

    June 25, 2011 at 2:02 am | Report abuse |
  11. Anthony

    We are part of a larger multiverse.To put simpler, think of it as us (our universe) being one peice of popcorn in the bag. The truth about creation and "God/gods" lies on the outside of the popcorn bag. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, when you die your energy/electrical impulses cease to function. Since you cannot create or destroy energy, the factors controlling these impulses leave our bodies. Where does that energy go? since your personality and memories are linked in specific patterns via numerous synapses in our brain, its probably a safe bet that who are you here does not follow you to whatever is next.
    But what do i know. Does the energy that we expell become the Dark Matter of the universe? Do we end up as unseen chargers of energy that keep the universe in balance?
    I want to believe our energy goes outside the popcorn bag....

    June 25, 2011 at 2:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      The "energy" is mostly stored in the cells. It becomes food for other organisms once we're buried, or is lost in combustion if we're cremated. You die when your brain can no longer can transmit and maintain electrical gradients, so it's not that the energy is lost, it's that you no longer can sustain the reactions in the first place. Think of it like any chain reaction that gets terminated. Anyway, dark matter is something entirely different... and doesn't interact with the electromagnetic force, so clearly can't be where any energy goes.

      ... Though I think people tend to use that word without really grasping what it means. Why do people keep asking about "energy", why is spin conservation any less interesting?

      June 25, 2011 at 3:12 am | Report abuse |
    • JG

      Because the majority of people on the planet don't want to actually learn anything nor actually look up any facts. They just want to take their elementary school knowledge of science, then twist it and warp it until it fits whatever agenda it is that is important to them. Most people do this without even realizing it.

      June 25, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  12. Kenny

    Life, what kind of life? Micro-organism? HIV and Aids could be life too, what good does that do when there's no support for real life, such as human life???

    June 25, 2011 at 3:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      Viruses aren't really called 'life', at least not typically, and AIDS isn't a virus, it is "acquired immune deficiency syndrome", in other words, it is what you get from HIV, ergo, AIDS cannot be considered alive any more than "chronic pain syndrome" could be considered alive.

      June 25, 2011 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
  13. Charlie

    Sarah Palin is upset, she can't see Enceladus from her backyard

    June 25, 2011 at 3:15 am | Report abuse |
  14. GAREYMS

    Send the teabaggers up there. Jerry Falwell could be their god & everything would be perfect.

    June 25, 2011 at 3:27 am | Report abuse |
  15. Wolfymode

    It seems nearly every news story turns into a religious debate around here. Why don't the two sides just bang each other and get it over with?

    June 25, 2011 at 10:05 am | Report abuse |
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