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originally posted by: jadedANDcynical
Enceladus has long been thought to be one of the possible places where life could exist outside of earth due to the evidence of there being liquid
water somewhere down below all the ice. Same with Europa. Heck when looking at extremophiles here on earth, Io isn’t too far outside the realms of
Bacteria have been found in some of the most inhospitable environments imaginable and yet they thrive. Places like inside solid rock deep in the
earth, on the cooling rods in nuclear reactors and other such places.
I would not be surprised to find that microbial life is much more prevalent than is currently accepted in general knowledge.
NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay has often spoke about his desire to see a fly-by mission to Enceladus to gather samples of the plumes of water
shooting into space from Enceledus and bringing those samples back to Earth for Study. Of course, that would not be an easy or cheap mission, which
is why it won’t be happening anytime soon.
But McKay definitely feels that Enceldaus is a great candidate for life:
Could microbial life exist inside Enceladus, where no sunlight reaches, photosynthesis is impossible and no oxygen is available? To answer
that question, we need look no farther than our own planet to find examples of the types of exotic ecosystems that could make life possible on
Saturn’s geyser moon. The answer appears to be, yes, it could be possible. It is this tantalizing potential that brings us back to Enceladus for
Here is McKay’s, et al. “low-cost” (relatively speaking) proposal for an Enceladus sample return mission:
Low Cost Enceladus Sample Return Mission Concept
Note: Link opens directly to a PDF file
Cassini has provided strong evidence that Enceladus has an ocean with an energy source, nutrients, and organic molecules. From everything
we know, Enceladus should be habitable. We want to know if it is inhabited, and if not, why not. Either way, sample return is essential. Lucky for
us, Enceladus is already ejecting samples into space. We just have to go get them.
It should be noted that the “Europa Clipper” Mission (which has tentative funding and seemingly the official go-ahead) will be able to analyze samples
of Europa’s plumes of water, which are similar — but certainly not on the scale of — the plumes of water emanating from Enceladus.
The plumes of Enceladus are geysers that can easily be seen by the Cassini Spacecraft during its fly-bys of the moon, and discovered more than a
decade ago. However, the plumes on Europa are much more tenuous, and have only recently been discovered (but not really quite “confirmed” yet).
That being said, the plan for the Europa Clipper mission is to do several fly-bys of Europa, scoping up some of that water being flung into space, and
analyzing it to discern the potential habitability of Europa’s oceans.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope observed water vapor above the south polar region of Europa in 2012, providing potential evidence of water plumes.
If the plumes’ existence is confirmed – and they’re linked to a subsurface ocean – studying their composition would help scientists investigate the
chemical makeup of Europa’s potentially habitable environment while minimizing the need to drill through layers of ice.