Image of the Day: Saturn’s Enigmatic Moon, Enceladus -A Habitat for Life?

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On Saturn's small, icy moon Enceladus, “the mother lode of all discoveries was discovered at the South Pole,” said Carolyn Porco in a talk at Harvard University. Porco is director of flight operations and imaging team leader for the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn. Her work involves taking detailed pictures in space, shots that offer insights into the nature of the universe, and signs of life elsewhere in the solar system.. She described Cassini’s findings of elevated temperatures in the moon’s polar region, as well as an enormous plume of icy particles shooting tens of thousands of kilometers into space.

Analysis of the icy trail, which includes water vapor and trace amounts of organic materials such as methane, carbon dioxide, and propane, suggests it is fueled by geysers erupting from a pocket of salt water within the moon.

The findings, noted Porco, point to the possibility of “an environment where life itself might be stirring.”

“Should we ever discover that a second genesis had occurred in our solar system, independently outside the Earth,” she added, “then I think at that point the spell is broken. The existence theorem has been proven, and we could safely infer from it that life was not a bug but a feature of the universe in which we live, that it’s commonplace and has occurred a staggering number of times.”

This image above, taken on August 13, 2010, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, shows the moon Enceladus over the bright arc of Saturn's atmosphere.

Casey Kazan via Harvard University

Image credits: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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