Humans Could Live on Saturn�s Moon

Humans Could Live on Saturn�s Moon

Since the late 1960s man has had the capability of exploring space and with this ability came an undying interest in the search for extraterrestrial life but recently, scientists have been just as interested in planets that have the potential to support life. This search has led scientists to distant planets in unexplored solar systems, but surprisingly the search isn�t always so far away; some discoveries have been made right in our �backyard.� More than 11 years ago, NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency collaborated on a project to study Saturn and its surrounding moons. The mission, referred to as the Cassini-Huygens mission, became active in 2004 after the spacecraft reached the planet. Though Saturn has an astounding 53 moons, recently the moon Enceladus, which is only 3% the size of Earth, has become of interest.

The moon Enceladus plays a keynote role in the composition of Saturn�s rings. Saturn�s outermost ring, the E ring, is created by particles that spew from stripe-like fracture lines on Enceladus� surface. The Cassini spacecraft witnessed this event and while taking samples of the particles made a noteworthy discovery: the particles contained salt! While the lighter particles from the spewing moon went to the E ring, the heavier particles fall back to the moon�s surface; it is within these heavier particles that scientists have discovered a high concentration of sodium and potassium grains. Moreover, Cassini�s instruments detected negatively charged ions coming from the icy particles being ejected from the moon. The presence of salt in these particles and the negative charge of the ions are far more important than the average person realizes.

The presence of salty particles and negatively charged ions leads scientists to a variety of exciting conclusions. At its most basic level, the salt has led scientists to believe that under the surface of Enceladus, water is in contact with rock, which is an important part of supporting life. Negatively charged ions open up the potential of this discover, because negatively charged ions are found in moving sources of water such as streams, waterfalls, rivers and oceans. It is from this fact that the larger implication of this discovery is revealed. Scientists have theorized that the small moon may actually contain an ocean; a large, subterranean saltwater ocean in fact. An ocean within one of Saturn�s moons is monumental, especially considering that it is in our solar system. Enceladus is an icy moon, with an average temperature of -330�F. Traditionally these temperatures would be considered too low to be able to support any type of life. Enceladus� potential underground ocean counter�s many scientists� theories that it would be impossible for water to exist such a long distance away from the sun.

Enceladus� moon puts a great deal of excitement into the race to find potential life sustaining planets. On a more specific level, this discovery may lead to further interest and exploration of Saturn and its moons. Some scientists want to immediately begin investigation into Enceladus and the ocean that most likely lies beneath its icy surface. If scientist find evidence that life could be supported on Enceladus, it could mean that the conditions believed necessary to support life on a planet could be changed forever.

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