Enceladus is one of the moons of Saturn. Saturn is the 6th planet from the Sun in the Solar System. It is also the second largest in the Solar System. Jupiter is the largest. It is a gas giant and the only one with the characteristic rings, the Rings Of Saturn. Humanity has always looked up to the heavens and wondered if there is life out there. Perhaps the earlier generations could ask these questions because they could see the beautiful night sky before light pollution in the cities made it impossible to see the stars and the planets. Saturn is the furthest planet we can see without the aid of a telescope but not in detail of course.
NASA today made an announcement to say that Enceladus could harbour life. Enceladus is one of the moons of Saturn. The information from the Cassini probe mission which has been collecting data for 13 years points to the fact that there might be life on this moon. This is great news! It comes at a time when other ‘water worlds’ have been discovered around the Milky Way Galaxy. Water is an important ingredient of life so where we find water, we may find life of some form.
The Cassini space probe is nearing the end of its 20 year old journey. It will be intentionally crashed into the atmosphere of Saturn on the 15th of Septhember, 2017. The process will start on the 26th of April, 2017. As Cassini descends to its innevitable destruction, it will collect data and send back to mission control on Earth. It will be the first time it is interacting with the atmosphere of Saturn. The interaction with the atmosphere will destroy the probe. The idea is to avoid possible contamination of possible life on Saturn hence the need to destroy it.
So what makes scientists think there might be life on Enceladus? It has a hydrogen energy source which supports life. Molecular hydrogen has been found in the plume of material blasting from Enceladus. The materail is specifically coming fronm the south pole of the moon. This could mean that the ocean below has enough energy to support life.
Many people will be wondering why we are spending so much money and attention into looking for life in the Universe as if we do not have enough problems on Earth. I often ask that question too. Perhaps it is part of our evolution to look to the Universe for a future galactic society. Our star, the Sun, will not survive beyond another 4.5 billion years. Humanity will need to migrate to another galaxy. More importantly, the process of investigation into space exploration ahs always produced products and services of immediate commercial use.