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Proved: Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, has the four essential ingredients for life

A Talented OneA Talented One stewMembers Posts: 4,202 ✭✭✭
edited April 2014 in The Social Lounge
A Moon of Saturn Has a Sea, Scientists Say

By KENNETH CHANGAPRIL 3, 2014

Inside a moon of Saturn, beneath its icy veneer and above its rocky core, is a sea of water the size of Lake Superior, scientists announced on Thursday.

The findings, published in the journal Science, confirm what planetary scientists have suspected about the moon, Enceladus, ever since they were astonished in 2005 by photographs showing geysers of ice crystals shooting out of its south pole.

“What we’ve done is put forth a strong case for an ocean,” said David J. Stevenson, a professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology and an author of the Science paper.

For many researchers, this tiny, shiny cueball of a moon, just over 300 miles wide, is now the most promising place to look for life elsewhere in the solar system, even more than Mars.

“Definitely Enceladus,” said Larry W. Esposito, a professor of astrophysical and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado, who was not involved in the research. “Because there’s warm water right there now.”

Enceladus (pronounced en-SELL-a-dus) is caught in a gravitational tug of war between Saturn and another moon, Dione, which bends its icy outer layer, creating friction and heat. In the years since discovering the geysers, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has made repeated flybys of Enceladus, photographing the fissures (nicknamed tiger stripes) where the geysers originate, measuring temperatures and identifying carbon-based organic molecules that could serve as building blocks for life.

Cassini has no instruments that can directly detect water beneath the surface, but three flybys in the years 2010-12 were devoted to producing a map of the gravity field, noting where the pull was stronger or weaker. During the flybys, lasting just a few minutes, radio telescopes that are part of NASA’s Deep Space Network broadcast a signal to the spacecraft, which echoed it back to Earth. As the pull of Enceladus’ gravity sped and then slowed the spacecraft, the frequency of the radio signal shifted, just as the pitch of a train whistle rises and falls as it passes by a listener.

Using atomic clocks on Earth, the scientists measured the radio frequency with enough precision that they could discern changes in the velocity of Cassini, hundreds of millions of miles away, as minuscule as 14 inches an hour.

They found that the moon’s gravity was weaker at the south pole. At first glance, that is not so surprising; there is a depression at the pole, and lower mass means less gravity. But the depression is so large that the gravity should actually have been weaker.

“Then you say, ‘Aha, there must be compensation,'” Dr. Stevenson said. “Something more dense under the ice. The natural candidate is water.”

Liquid water is 8 percent denser than ice, so the presence of a sea 20 to 25 miles below the surface fits the gravity measurements. “It’s an ocean that extends in all directions from the south pole to about halfway to the equator,” Dr. Stevenson said.

The underground sea is up to six miles thick, much deeper than a lake. “It’s a lot more water than Lake Superior,” Dr. Stevenson said. “It may even be bigger. The ocean could extend all the way to the north pole.”

The conclusion was not a surprise, said Christopher P. McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., who studies the possibility of life on other worlds, but “it confirms in a really robust way what has been sort of been the standard model.”

Mars has a dearth of nitrogen, found in amino acids and proteins, and the surface today is dry and cold. Europa, which also possesses an under-ice ocean, may have all of the ingredients, but that has not been confirmed. Ice plumes have also been observed coming off Europa’s south pole, but intermittently. Titan is the most intriguing and speculative possibility, with lakes of liquid methane, not water. If life existed there, it would be far different from that on Earth.

Still, life on Enceladus is perhaps a long shot. The sea is at freezing temperature and in continual darkness. And the water may have been liquid only in the recent past, a few tens of millions of years, a blink in the 4.5-billion-year history of the solar system. But scientists also do not know how long it takes life to get started, and some think it could happen quickly.

“Is there life in the plume?” Dr. McKay said. “To answer that question, a sample return would be the way.”

There are a couple of proposals for that already, including one by Peter Tsou, a retired scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dr. Tsou devised a way to capture comet particles and bring them back to Earth for NASA’s Stardust mission and has been suggesting a similar method for a spacecraft that would fly through Enceladus’ plumes and then return to Earth for scientists to examine.

The challenges are to make sure that the interesting particles would not break apart, to take precautions that any alien life would not infect Earth, and to fit it into the $500 million budget of one of NASA’s lower-cost planetary missions.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/04/science/space/a-moon-of-saturn-has-a-sea-scientists-say.html?hp&_r=0



Comments

  • VIBEVIBE Members Posts: 54,384 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Will be interesting to see since that moon is so far from the sun.
  • A Talented OneA Talented One stew Members Posts: 4,202 ✭✭✭
  • Lou CypherLou Cypher Make Reasonable Choices. H. E. Double Hockey SticksMembers Posts: 52,520 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Wonder how long it would take a rover to land over there.
  • jonojono Right fist = power, left fist = unity Members Posts: 30,280 ✭✭✭✭✭
    If they can test the theory, I want to see those results.

    I was wondering where the heat source was coming from when I first saw they believed water was there...the gravitational pull theory is equally interesting.

    Enceladus, Europa and Titan are very intriguing because of the belief liquids exist.
  • DarcSkiesDarcSkies TRUST IN ALLAH BUT TIE UP YOUR CAMEL Members Posts: 13,791 ✭✭✭✭✭
    VIBE wrote: »
    Will be interesting to see since that moon is so far from the sun.

    You seen some of the creatures we have on the deepest parts of our ocean with no sunlight. I can only imagine what an alien whale looks like.

    images?q=tbn:ANd9GcS-ZOd1FdGtkjdFBqXsrKTdxCeCImPiIAASmGxCY8jaURuButNC
  • StoneColdMikeyStoneColdMikey mikeyismod CHITOWN THE BEST TOWNMembers, Moderators Posts: 33,543 Regulator
    Probably ain't no big aliens but I bet it's some sort of living organisms in those moons
  • nawledge_godnawledge_god Lurk And Talk Shit Chiraq RefugeeMembers Posts: 5,622 ✭✭✭✭✭
    VIBE wrote: »
    Will be interesting to see since that moon is so far from the sun.

    You seen some of the creatures we have on the deepest parts of our ocean with no sunlight. I can only imagine what an alien whale looks like.


    *Shudders

  • jonojono Right fist = power, left fist = unity Members Posts: 30,280 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Probably ain't no big aliens but I bet it's some sort of living organisms in those moons
    Right. It's probably some bacteria or something out there. Probably not giant land creatures but small organisms are really likely.
  • Bender RodriguezBender Rodriguez Kiss my shiny metal ass!! New new YorkMembers Posts: 2,084 ✭✭✭✭✭
    🤬 really think our rules of life apply universally

    Wouldn't it tho?
    You live and then you die. That's as universal as it gets.

    I think he means life has to have water and/or sun
  • 808HiLife808808HiLife808 Members Posts: 1,072 ✭✭✭✭✭
    🤬 really think our rules of life apply universally

    CS



  • MoneyLuverMoneyLuver Members Posts: 2,384 ✭✭✭✭
    So 🤬 gonna stop believining in Jesus becuz there's frozen h2o somewhere else? Elements that are far from exclusive to our planet....






    Smh, some 🤬 just wanna go to hell
  • Arya TsaddiqArya Tsaddiq Shalawam The Daughter of BabylonMembers Posts: 15,334 ✭✭✭✭✭
    MoneyLuver wrote: »
    So 🤬 gonna stop believining in Jesus becuz there's frozen h2o somewhere else? Elements that are far from exclusive to our planet....






    Smh, some 🤬 just wanna go to hell

    you cant force someone to believe something. Let them cook bruh.
  • MoneyLuverMoneyLuver Members Posts: 2,384 ✭✭✭✭
    I won't be the one that forces u to believe in any. U can bet on that
  • Trollio Trollio Trollololololololololol Members Posts: 25,817 ✭✭✭✭✭
    ^^^🤬 🤬 from Uranus
  • dalyricalbanditdalyricalbandit Co-Owner Of AllhipHop.com, Super Moderator, Administrator, Moderator Members, Moderators Posts: 67,918 Regulator
    aint no beaches pass
  • englishdudeenglishdude Members Posts: 3,427 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Its a trap.....
  • Bcotton5Bcotton5 Members Posts: 51,851 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Thanos lives on Titan
  • Arya TsaddiqArya Tsaddiq Shalawam The Daughter of BabylonMembers Posts: 15,334 ✭✭✭✭✭
    The timing for this is perfect. Has anyone else seen bright moving objects in the sky at night lately? They are like large stars almost an orange color, but they move....

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