At the moment when NASA’s newest planet hunter launches, scheduled for Monday evening, astrono...
Ingredients for life discovered gushing out of Saturn's moon
- Early in its mission, while flying past Saturn's ice-covered moon Enceladus, Cassini discovered jets of ice and saltwater gushing from cracks in the south pole -- a sign that the body contained a subsurface ocean that could harbor life.
- The fact that an aging orbiter not designed for life detection was able to sense these molecules -- which are among the largest and most complex organics found in the solar system -- makes the icy moon an even more tantalizing target in the search for extraterrestrial life, said Cable, a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who was not involved in the new research.
- Postberg and his colleagues propose that the organic molecules generated in Enceladus's ocean's depths eventually float to the surface, where they form a thin film just beneath the planet's icy crust.
- Enceladus's plumes are extremely tenuous - more like a thin veil than a jet from a fire hose - and scientists have questioned whether a spacecraft flying through the spray would be able to collect enough organics to draw conclusions about their origin.
- Cable is deputy project scientist for a concept called Enceladus Life Finder, which would use more advanced instruments than the ones on Cassini to sample the plume during a series of flybys.more