Our love affair with Enceladus grows deeper:
The ocean lies between the moon’s rocky core and a layer of thick ice, and is estimated to be about the size of Lake Superior. That’s large for a moon that is only 310 miles (500 kilometers) in diameter and could fit within the borders of Arizona.
In our solar system, the only other moon known to have similar contact between liquid water and rock is Jupiter’s Europa. Both the rock and the water are considered to be essential for the chemistry that could, over eons, turn nonliving matter into living entities.
“The main implication of our work is that there are potentially habitable environments in our solar system that are entirely unexpected,” said Luciano Iess, an aerospace engineer at the Sapienza University of Rome and lead author on the study published Thursday in the journal Science.
The essential question is actually a matter of opinion, sort of: How important is this?
It is the sort of question that persisted in youth. Is there life in outer space? Are the little green men, the flying saucers and cigars and angels, real? And over the years the debate has gone back and forth; the Drake Equation, questions of scale and motivation. Even if the Greys aren’t really out there, watching us from Zeta Reticuli, it can be a fascinating discussion.
But the truth of the matter is much more mundane; there really is no theoretic doubt left that life exists beyond Earth. For those hoping to have some Romulan Ale with Spock, or cut out Jar Jar Binks’ tongue, meesa has some bad news. To the other, those who will simply be comforted to have the answer on record, so that we can get about the paradigm shift, well, yeah.
Sometimes it seems an easy enough joke: Notably an American government agency that routinely does its job, does it well, and outperforms expectations, the tragic lesson we learn from NASA is that this is exactly how to get your budget slashed.
Similarly, it is reasonable to suggest that NASA knows, within about a thousand square miles, where to look for life beyond Earth. If that proposition only becomes more complicated with the addition of Enceladus to the list, we can imagine the eggheads are not losing sleep except to rub their hands in gleeful anticipation.
Kaufman, Marc. “Saturn Moon Harbors Ocean, Raising Possibility of Life”. National Geographic Daily News. April 3, 2014.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “NASA Space Assets Detect Ocean inside Saturn Moon”. Cassini Solstice Mission. April 3, 2014.