Planetary scientists have confirmed the existence of water in the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, Enceladus. Other moons in the solar system (including ours) contain water, but if there is liquid water it’s deep and frozen beneath layers of ice–not propitious conditions for micro-organisms. Enceladus, however, is actively spurting out plumes of water at high speeds like Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park. Why should you care about a tiny moon in space that could fit comfortably within the state of Arizona? Because the presence of water at or near its surface means Enceladus may be one of the best places to look for extraterrestrial life.
Dr. David J. Stevenson, the professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology who confirmed the liquid water discovery (and co-authored a paper in Science) told 2paragraphs: “This discovery does not necessarily mean that life could start there. We do not know exactly what was needed for that either there or on Earth. But life elsewhere in the universe always seemed likely and this makes no change to that high likelihood since water is actually quite common.” Dr. Carolyn Porco, lead on the Cassini imaging team at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado that captured the images, sounds more excited about the prospect. She said when the images were first seen, even before the recent confirmation: “We have significantly broadened the diversity of solar system environments where we might possibly have conditions suitable for living organisms. It doesn’t get any more exciting than this.”