Posted by: mrpeatie | January 27, 2009

So if They Are Still Discovering Life on This Planet…

Saturn's sixth largest moon, Enceladus

Saturn's sixth largest moon, Enceladus

I always enjoy science stories where they find a new species somewhere or find life taking hold in the most inhospitable places on Earth where scientist thought life could never possibly exist. The best example of this is when searching around the deepest and darkest parts of the ocean they surprisingly found areas around thermal vents teeming with abundant life. There was also a recent story about scientists using Google Earth to discover an interesting patch of green in a rather hard to reach part of Mozambique. A British-led expedition was quickly sent to check out the new forest and three new butterflies and one new species of snake have been discovered.

So if scientists are still discovering new life on this planet, then there is a least a small chance that life is also taking hold somewhere else in our solar system that we have yet to discover. There are several places in our celestial neighborhood where some form of life could, in theory, exist. We are only now beginning to dig around on Mars and learn all its secrets so it will be a while before we can really examine any of these places. The best bet for life existing elsewhere in our solar system is on one of Saturn’s moons called Enceladus.

The sixth-largest moon of Saturn has been called the most promising bet for life thanks to its welcoming temperature and the likely presence of water and simple organic molecules. The surface of the icy moon is thought to be about 99 percent water ice, with a good chance of liquid water beneath. Observations from the Cassini probe’s 2005 flyby of Enceladus suggest the presence of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen — organic molecules thought to be necessary to develop life. And the moon seems to have a boiling core of molten rock that could heat the world to the toasty temperatures needed to give rise to life.

Images of Enceladus' wild topography taken from the Cassini probe

Images of Enceladus' wild topography taken from the Cassini probe

And this is just our solar system. There are billions of stars in our galaxy and we are only now beginning to discover other planets orbiting these stars. Many of them probably have moons. Odds are most of them won’t have the requirements to sustain life, but given the staggering number of stars, planets, and moons out there, it’s just hard to believe that our planet is the only one with just the perfect mix of ingredients for life.


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