Earlier in the week, NASA announced that it had something to share with the rest of the world. Knowing NASA, the announcement was bound to be exciting. However, we did not know just how exciting. The press conference has concluded and NASA has revealed that Enceladus, one of Saturn’s 62 confirmed moons, could well be home to conditions that make it suitable for supporting organic life as we know it.
NASA announced the same at a press conference today. The press conference was based on the findings from the research organization’s Cassini spacecraft that is currently in orbit around Saturn. The craft went looking for oceanic worlds and we went to find several of them. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Quite a lot still needs to be established before we ca go ahead and proclaim the presence of life on the satellite with any certainty. However, NASA says that we have come very close to that possibility this time around.
As per NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen,
[Enceladus is the] closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment.
What’s more, hydrogen is expected to be coming out from a series of sub-sea vents present on Enceladus. It is expected that this Hydrogen would be sufficient to provide the energy required to support some small life forms including microbes. In case you are wondering how Hydrogen even comes into the picture at all, the process through which microbes break hydrogen and produce methane is expected to be a sure shot indication of the presence of life and indeed, many believe that the process was fundamental in sustaining life on our earth as well.
And methane is present on the planet. The Cassini spacecraft had occasion to descend into a plume of gas and water in October, 2015. The spacecraft sampled it only to discover that the mix included water, hydrogen and methane. Even apart from this discovery, a look at Enceladus is quite enough to explain why NASA is so excited by it. For one, the satellite has liquid water despite being covered by ice. The only important elements that Cassini hasn’t yet confirmed are phosphorus and sulfur. However, researchers are very hopeful that these two elements will eventually turn up as well.
The implications of this are huge and honestly was not exciting the organisation to spring out something like this so suddenly. Granted, it does not mean that we are going to find an alien civilization on Encleladus. However, the mere fact that the satellite could be home to some form of life or at least receptive to it, is huge. Forget the possibility that humans could actually go and establish an outpost there someday, forget the fact that it could well provide us with the first step towards becoming an interplanetary species — just imagine the kind of understanding we will gain if we were able to bring some sort of a life form back (if it exists) and study it.