Saturn’s ice-crusted moon Enceladus may now be the single best place to go to look for life beyond Earth.
The assessment comes on the heels of new observations at the 500km-wide world made by the Cassini probe.
It has flown through and sampled the waters from a subsurface ocean that is being jetted into space.
Cassini’s chemistry analysis strongly suggests the Enceladean seafloor has hot fluid vents – places that on Earth are known to teem with life.
To be clear: the existence of such hydrothermal systems is not a guarantee that organisms are present on the little moon; its environment may still be sterile. But the new results make a compelling case to return to this world with more sophisticated instrumentation – technologies that can re-sample the ejected water for clear evidence that biology is also at play.
“We’re pretty darn sure that the internal ocean of Enceladus is habitable and we need to go back and investigate it further,” said Cassini scientist Dr Hunter Waite from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.
“If there is no life there, why not? And if there is, all the better. But you certainly want to ask the question because it’s almost as equally as interesting if there is no life there, given the conditions,” he told BBC News.
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SOURCE: BBC News, Jonathan Amos