Sci­en­tists look­ing for life on Saturn’s moon Ence­ladus

Tehran Times - - SCI / MED -

Ence­ladus, Saturn’s sixth largest moon, is in­creas­ingly be­ing rec­og­nized by sci­en­tists as the most promis­ing place in the So­lar Sys­tem to search for life.

The bril­liant white moon, which is about the size of Eng­land, has a global ocean of salty, liq­uid wa­ter be­low its frozen sur­face that this has ex­isted for bil­lions of years — plenty of time for life to emerge. Fur­ther­more, the pres­ence of hy­dro­ther­mal ac­tiv­ity and or­ganic ma­te­ri­als may pro­vide the warmth and ma­te­ri­als needed for or­gan­isms, as we un­der­stand them, to evolve.

Carolyn Porco, one of the world’s fore­most plan­e­tary sci­en­tists, is among those who thinks Ence­ladus should be our top pri­or­ity in the search for ex­trater­res­trial life. Speak­ing at the 2018 Break­through Dis­cuss con­fer­ence at Stan­ford Univer­sity on Thurs­day, she out­lined why Ence­ladus is so promis­ing and how we could go about find­ing life there.

Porco has long been at the fore­front of re­search into the moon. In the mid-2000s, for ex­am­ple, her team was re­spon­si­ble for sight­ing huge plumes of wa­ter va­por erupt­ing from frac­tures on the sur­face of Ence­ladus’ south po­lar re­gion.

Fur­ther­more, “there’s a process that hap­pens on ev­ery nat­u­ral body on the Earth called ‘bub­ble scrub­bing’, whereby or­ganic ma­te­ri­als and or­gan­isms, which are very hy­dropho­bic, at­tach to bub­bles as they rise through the wa­ter col­umn,” she said. “At the sur­face the bub­bles break, they re­lease their spray and that’s what we think we’re see­ing on Ence­ladus.”

But what kind of space­craft would be most ef­fec­tive at find­ing life on Ence­ladus? Ac­cord­ing to Porco, a rov­ing ve­hi­cle would not be use­ful be­cause of the moon’s rocky ter­rain, which is filled with huge blocks of ice. There’s also no at­mos­phere, so us­ing a drone would not be pos­si­ble.

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