so, how about that Enceladus

"All these worlds are yours except Enceladus; attempt no landings there."

Observations from the Cassini spacecraft currently studying Saturn and its myriad moons shows Enceladus, one of the brightest objects in the Solar System, to be a geologist's dream, with an active plume spewing water and other material spaceward, as well as a hot spot of thermal activity at its south pole.

Enceladus' active nature points toward subsurface water reservoirs beneath its icy exterior, much like that believed to churn just under the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, researchers said. But unlike Europa, which researchers believe harbors a vast ocean beneath kilometers of thick ice, Enceladus' water may be just below the surface.

"You've got liquid water, and it's liquid water interfacing with rock... and there's energy," NASA Cassini scientist Candice Hansen-Koharcheck told "We've got the very most basic ingredients here, and so that notches it up on the biological potential list."

"Any life that existed could not be luxuriant and would have to deal with low temperatures, feeble metabolic energy, and perhaps a severe chemical environment," Kargel wrote. "Nevertheless, we cannot discount the possibility that Enceladus may be life's distant outpost."

This sounds like pretty huge news to me: Enceladus has an atmosphere and liquid water -- not just ice -- and I think that makes it the first such place besides Earth where that environment is known to exist. That makes it more hospitable to life than Mars (unless you mean "Mars as of three billion years ago") and possibly more hospitable than Antarctica... The fact that the water is in a geologically active environment is also important, because odds are that you need not just water but a chaotic and mineral-rich environment to get life to kick-start itself.

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20 Responses:

  1. nelc says:

    Eh, no more atmosphere than the other ice-moons (excepting Hoth, of course), and liquid water is inferred to exist under Europa's crust and possibly Ganymede's.

    On the whole, Titan still looks a better bet. More atmosphere, even if no liquid water.

  2. benediktus says:

    woweee... let's wait some million years and watch them nuke each other.

  3. caprinus says:

    Enceladus or Encladius? ...It's a cover-up oh noes! It's actually Enron, isn't it.

  4. taiganaut says:

    I'm quite excited by this news, although I think Enceadalus' atmosphere is very, very thin.

    • strspn says:

      Thin? It is an atmosphere. And liquid fucking water! Haven't you ever heard of an air compressor?

      This is what you call lucking out. God damned lucky humans. All that testosterone and no tangible fronteers, until now. Big bifurcating fronteers, less than a few light hours away. YES YES YES!

      Yes yes yes yes yes!

      • strspn says:

        Oh well, I guess since the Terrestrial Planet Finder is cancelled, we can go back to fighting with each other now.

  5. kyronfive says:

    Yeah, but what happens when they start sending us monoliths?

  6. myth says:

    I expect we will find life forms on Enceladus, and that they will be dubbed "enchiladas."

  7. moof1138 says:

    This seems like pretty huge news to me too. I am afraid I don't keep up on NASA's scheduling, but I do hope we get another spacecraft out there to do some more flybys and gather as much data as possible. It seems more interesting than Mars, really.

    On a separate unrelated note, behold Human Bread

  8. substitute says:

    It did seem like huge and buried news. Liquid water? WOW. Careful, though. If evidence of early life or near-life was found there, Freedom Science could be at risk and the Baby Jesus might die!

    BTW I love that Laurie Anderson song. This is your captain speaking...

  9. loosechanj says:

    I'm not sure "atmosphere" here means anything like ours, I expect it's more of a water vapor or mist that's hung around the moon instead of getting hurled off into a ring. Like Europa, I expect any *really* exciting stuff is happening below the surface.

  10. strspn says:

    whatever. YES YES YES!