Saturn Moon Now 'Best Bet' for Finding Life

Probe finds new signs of underground Enceladus ocean

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Apr 4, 2014 3:13 AM CDT | Updated Apr 4, 2014 5:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – Saturn's sixth-largest moon holds an underground ocean with at least as much water as Lake Superior, according to exciting new data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft that makes some scientists believe Enceladus is now the place in our solar system where we're most likely to find extraterrestrial life. New measurements suggest the moon, which is just over 300 miles wide, has a 6-mile deep ocean buried under 20 to 25 miles of ice, reports CNN. The new findings appear to confirm earlier signs of an underground ocean, including plumes of vapor from the moon's south pole.

The new finding "confirms in a really robust way what has been sort of the standard model," a NASA planetary scientist tells the New York Times, noting that Enceladus is the only place outside Earth known to hold liquid water, energy, carbon and nitrogen—the four essential building blocks for life as we know it. "I would say it's our best bet" for finding extraterrestrial life, he says. Scientists hope future missions will be able to take samples from the vapor plumes, where organic molecules have already been detected.

This illustration provided by NASA and based on Cassini spacecraft measurements shows the possible interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus.
This illustration provided by NASA and based on Cassini spacecraft measurements shows the possible interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus.   (AP Photo/NASA, JPL, Caltech)
Saturn's moon Enceladus, as seen from the Cassini orbiter.
Saturn's moon Enceladus, as seen from the Cassini orbiter.   (AP Photo/NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)
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