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NASA Space Science

Saturn Moon Could Be Hospitable To Life 153

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the it's-life-but-not-as-we-know-it dept.
shmG writes to share that recent imagery from Saturn's moon Enceladus indicate that it may be hospitable to life. "NASA said on Tuesday that a flyby of planet's Enceladus moon showed small jets of water spewing from the southern hemisphere, while infrared mapping of the surface revealed temperatures warmer than previously expected. 'The huge amount of heat pouring out of the tiger stripe fractures may be enough to melt the ice underground,' said John Spencer, a composite infrared spectrometer team member based at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. 'Results like this make Enceladus one of the most exciting places we've found in the solar system.'"
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Saturn Moon Could Be Hospitable To Life

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  • by jpmorgan (517966) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @07:12PM (#31266260) Homepage

    Seriously, NASA. Anybody who's ever eaten at a bad Mexican restaurant knows enchiladas are hospitable to all forms of microscopic life.

  • The conditions on Enceladus are believed to be short lived. It hasn't been going on for billions of years so complex life forms can not have had time to evolve.

    Life could come from elsewhere on comets, meteors, etc but the habitable places are deep inside the moon so they can't be colonized that way.

    • by pclminion (145572)
      If there happen to be biological fragments floating around in space, they might land on Enceladus and take advantage of the short-term conditions.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MichaelSmith (789609)

        If there happen to be biological fragments floating around in space, they might land on Enceladus and take advantage of the short-term conditions.

        That was my second point. The surface is at 50 degrees K and is exposed to a lot of radiation. "Biological fragments floating around in space" would not find their way into the warm environment under ground.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by coaxial (28297)

          "Biological fragments floating around in space" would not find their way into the warm environment under ground.

          I don't think you have a grasp of the time scales we're talking about. We're talking about BILLIONS of years. The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old [usgs.gov]. While I don't know the age of Enceladus, I think it's safe to assume it's contemporaneous with the Earth. This means that's even incredibly improbable events may have indeed occurred.

          Think about this: I don't think anyone knows for sure about where the initial organic compounds arrived on Earth, but organic compounds (i.e. molecules containing carbon, h

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by cupantae (1304123)

        There is indeed a family of microbes driving around the solar system in a car made out of an asteroid. The father microbe is wearing a stiff peaked cap and smoking a corn-cob pipe. They are going to settle on Enceladus for a brief spell. The daughter microbe is excited about the water, but the son would have preferred cable.

        Sorry if that's difficult to understand at all, but that's the currently accepted theory.

        • by geekd (14774)

          But if one of the kids mouths off ONE MORE TIME, father microbe is turning that asteroid car right around, and they are. GOING. HOME.

    • Re:Not impressed (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @07:33PM (#31266490) Homepage

      The conditions on Enceladus are believed to be short lived. It hasn't been going on for billions of years so complex life forms can not have had time to evolve.

      And... you wouldn't be impressed by simple life forms?

      Okay, well, that's cool, but why you were paying any attention at all is beyond me. We're pretty sure there's no complex life anywhere else in the solar system.

      Personally I'd be gobsmacked, flabbergasted, and impressed to all hell if we found even the most primitive of prokaryote.

      • Even if conditions inside Enceladus could support some of the bacteria we have now on Earth they would not allow it to evolve. Most of the theories about the evolution of very primitive life require high quality energy from impacts, lightening, etc. Enceladus doesn't have these things. It also takes time. Possibly 500 million years or more and Enceladus doesn't have that as well.

        • Re:Not impressed (Score:5, Informative)

          by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @07:55PM (#31266682) Homepage

          Possibly 500 million years or more and Enceladus doesn't have that as well.

          Possibly. But we've found prokaryote fossils from only 1 billion years after the earth's crust formed. So either life got busy evolving right away, or it doesn't necessarily take that long. Frankly I would avoid drawing strong conclusions either way based on the current state of abiogenesis theories.

          Besides, in the larger picture of "how often to potentially habitable environments arise and what forms do they take?" I find this very exciting even under the most likely case that we find no evidence of life on this moon. We've gone from a model of the solar system where every rock that wasn't ours being right-out as far as life having a chance, to having a variety of environments that at least hypothetically could support it. Then I start thinking about our infant search for exoplanets and I get even more excited.

          • by DJRumpy (1345787)

            Add to that the fact that there is an obvious heat (energy) source there. Black Smokers [wikipedia.org] also produce thermal energy, and chemical energy. We know they can support entire ecosystems thousands of feat under water.

        • Re:Not impressed (Score:5, Informative)

          by TapeCutter (624760) * on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @08:21PM (#31266914) Journal
          I'm unimpressed by your arguments and see no reason for your pessimisim. One of the best theories we have of abiogenisis is that it formed around undersea volcanic vents. Since the tidal forces of Staurn are heating the moon from the inside causing similar vents to appear on the surface it safe to say that Earth like vents are occuring in the rocky core of the moon. Abiogenisis in 10 minutes [youtube.com] - "No rediculous improbability, no supernatural forces, no lightening striking a mud puddle. Just Chemistry!"
          • I just want to point out that Enceladus can't have undersea volcanic vents like ours because it is a lump of ice a few hundred kilometers across. It may well have some rock deep down but there won't be enough for it to be liquid and to have volcanos. To have volcanos you need a deep mantle of hot rock.

            You can have cryovolcanos but we don't have evidence of life forming there.

            • by khallow (566160)

              I just want to point out that Enceladus can't have undersea volcanic vents like ours because it is a lump of ice a few hundred kilometers across. It may well have some rock deep down but there won't be enough for it to be liquid and to have volcanos. To have volcanos you need a deep mantle of hot rock.

              Quite true. There's a good chance however that it has hydrothermal activity, which is really what "volcanic vents" are.

              • I think my disquiet with the idea of life on Enceladus involves the fact that while there might be a lot of heat on Enceladus there is very little concentrated, high quality heat. Volcanos, impacts and solar energy on Earth create pockets of highly concentrated energy which can act as incubators. These can't exist in the interior of Enceladus. Impacts may raise the temperature of the surface but the environments they create will be short lived.

                • Re:Not impressed (Score:4, Interesting)

                  by TapeCutter (624760) * on Thursday February 25, 2010 @12:52AM (#31268640) Journal
                  As expalianed in the video the source of heat is irrelevant, the convection currents that cycle the lipids through hot and cold are what counts. There is no evidence to suggest Enceladus is entirely made of pure water, it's likely to have a small rocky center where the friction of rocks moving under tidal forces produce enough heat to melt the interior ice and cause the observed eruptions on the surface.

                  Where ever we have looked for life living in "impossible" environments on earth we have found it. 2km into the earth's crust, sulphuric acid lakes, reactor cores, ect, ect. I'm not claiming there is life on Enceladus, simply that it's one of the best targets to look for it. I don't understand why you are going out of your way to rationalise your desire to ignore such an interesting target.
                  • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

                    In addition, even if Enceladus was all ice, I think the tidal forces in the ice would generate heat. Some would be high grade heat. Think about the scary noises you sometimes hear in frozen lakes - those are the ice heaving as it melts. The same thing would happen on Enceladus because of the gas giant's gravity (huge). If you were in the water, you would probably here some loud noises from the ice breaking down.
                    • "Think about the scary noises you sometimes hear in frozen lakes - those are the ice heaving as it melts."

                      I live in Australia you insesitive clod!

                      Seriously though, if it was pure water then there would be little chance of life. But Cassini has already "tasted" organics in the ice vents [nasa.gov], implying there's more to it than just water.
                • by pnewhook (788591)

                  The heat on Enceladus comes from the massive gravitational effect of Saturn which is constantly twisting the planet and generating interior core heat.

        • by pnewhook (788591)

          It also takes time. Possibly 500 million years or more and Enceladus doesn't have that as well.

          What are you talking about? Life here on Earth has only been around for 8000 years. Of course only non-intelligent life actually believes that.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by MichaelSmith (789609)

            It also takes time. Possibly 500 million years or more and Enceladus doesn't have that as well.

            What are you talking about? Life here on Earth has only been around for 8000 years. Of course only non-intelligent life actually believes that.

            Old meme is old.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Amen. The possibility of extraterrestrial life is easily the most interesting thing there is. We might get more energy from nuclear engineering or more food from genetic engineering or longer life from medical sciences, but this is like the gold of the scientific world: it is intrinsically valuable. Even if nothing useful comes out of it, answering the question of whether or not there is anything on those moons would be worth it. The simplest of life living on another world would be phenomenal (even if

    • Re:Not impressed (Score:5, Insightful)

      by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @07:47PM (#31266604)

      It hasn't been going on for billions of years so complex life forms can not have had time to evolve.

      The graphic on this wiki page [wikipedia.org] suggests that life on earth arose 1.5 billion years after the earth was formed, nearly two billion years went by before multicellular life, and then another billion years before cnidarians, which developmentally are reasonably close to us and certainly what I would consider complex, were around. I don't know much about that, and I doubt anyone knows for sure what was going on in that time, but I don't see any evidence to suggest that a ~4 billion lag time from when your planet/moon is around to when complex life forms is a -universal- constant. There's nothing to say it couldn't happen much much faster on Enceladus, we only have one example of life arising, it would be a mistake to assume that is the constant or even typical rate of life arising. The cambrian explosion is certainly evidence that the rate changes wildly. Furthermore, we haven't even -seen- this environment, the only thing we know about it is that it's possible and it isn't like earth, so if we should expect anything, its that the timeline for life arising on Enceladus would be significantly different from Earth's.

      • There's nothing to say it couldn't happen much much faster on Enceladus

        Overall there is less energy and less space on Enceladus so I predict that evolution will happen slower there.

      • Re:Not impressed (Score:4, Insightful)

        by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @08:30PM (#31266978) Homepage

        I believe that current work suggests evidence of life arising withing the first few hundred million years of Earth's existence, not long after life could exist at all. (Prior to a certain point, sterilizing impacts were too frequent to let anything get far.) Probably half a billion years to no more than 1 billion years after the Earth formed we've found evidence of life. (Evidence gets to be isotopic beyond a certain point, but still.)

    • by Rei (128717)

      The conditions on Enceladus are believed to be short lived.

      Where are you getting that from? Why would its tidal force heating have been less in the past?

      • The conditions on Enceladus are believed to be short lived.

        Where are you getting that from? Why would its tidal force heating have been less in the past?

        There have been many articles which try to explain the gap in the known energy input from tidal heating and the known energy output of the plumes. This PDF [mit.edu] suggests that we are now seeing energy released from a recent period when the orbital eccentricity was higher and the moon absorbed more heat. The upshot seems to be that current conditions are temporary and can't be used to model the entire history of the moon.

        • by Rei (128717)

          I've seen one article which said that it can all be explained simply by the asymmetry of the heating -- that is, there's not enough heating for the entire interior of Enceladus to be liquid, but there is for a portion of it to be liquid, so long as there was a mechanism to concentrate it to one side -- which is what we see (and they postulated one method, although I forget what it was).
           

  • by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @07:14PM (#31266288)
    All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landings there.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by idontgno (624372)

      ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. And Enceladus. And maybe TITAN, we haven't decided on that yet. BUT THE OTHERS, YEAH, ALL YOURS.
      You know, on second thought, ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS ANYWHERE BEFORE CHECKING WITH US. KTHXBYE

      Filter error: Don't use so many caps. It's like YELLING.

      Apparently, slashdot feels like telling the omnipotent mysterious monolith what to do. Bad idea...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by interkin3tic (1469267)

        Apparently, slashdot feels like telling the omnipotent mysterious monolith what to do. Bad idea...

        (spoilers for 3001, although its been a while and I have a bad memory so maybe not...)

        Not really, the monoliths were destroyed by a computer virus in 3001 if I recall, so I'm sure slashdot could come up with enough goatse trolls, rickrolls, kdawson stories, overrated moderations etc to annoy the monoliths into leaving, if not blowing up.

        I'll get things started

        I, for one, welcome our monolithic, slashdot browsing, beowulf cluster running overlords.

        • 3001 contradicted a number of points from the earlier books (which implied faster than light communication and that all of the monoliths were extrusions of the same n-dimensional entity), but it did not indicate that all of the monoliths had been destroyed. Only the ones in this solar system were affected by the virus, the control point, 500 light years away, was controlled by sentient entities and so would not have been vulnerable to the logic bomb.

          Clarke explains the complete lack of continuity betwee

      • by Jason Levine (196982) on Thursday February 25, 2010 @09:51AM (#31271412)

        Or, to mix two different references:

        All these worlds are yours except Europa. And Enceladus. The two worlds that aren't yours are Europa and Enceladus... and Titan. The three worlds... no, amongst your worlds... amongst the worlds.... I'll come in again.

    • I always thought this was one of the sillier endings in a book/movie (one that I otherwise enjoyed, mind you). Why would a proto-omniscient intelligence target attention to the one place it didn't want it? However, it certainly seems to be one of the more enduring tropes in fiction - e.g. Pandora's Box, the apple tree of Eden, etc.

      • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @07:35PM (#31266500) Journal

        The warning was sent out because once Lucifer/Jupiter calmed down into semi-stability, Europa would very obviously have an atmosphere, and the first things humans (which in Clarke's universe, actually travel further than orbit) would do is land there.

        • I haven't read it in 20+ years, but in the book, didn't the Chinese attempt a landing, with resultant Really Bad Stuff?
          • The Chinese attempted a landing before the warning- and before the conversion of Jupiter into a star. Really bad stuff did occur, because their landing attracted the native life of Europa. The reason the monolith ignited Jupiter at the story's end was in large part to give that native life a more hospitable enviroment for development by thawing the Europan ice.
            • It's been a while since I've read the book as well, but IIRC, the Chinese received a warning shot across the bow before the Really Bad Stuff occurred.
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Abcd1234 (188840)

                It's been a while since I've read the book as well, but IIRC, the Chinese received a warning shot across the bow before the Really Bad Stuff occurred.

                No, they definitely did not (I've just started 3001, so this is fairly fresh).

                *SPOILER ALERT*

                As the joint US-Russian vessel Leonov was en route to rendezvous with Discovery, they got reports that China had secretly sent off their own mission to the Jupiter system, presumably to beat the US to the derelict vessel. The only problem was that it seemed to be a su

          • Yes, the Chinese did land there. They landed near a crack in the ice and drilled through. A plant colony came up through the hole in the ice, and made its way across the ice to the spaceship (being the hottest/brightest thing on the surface). It managed to get to the ship and pull it down. The Chinese were thus stranded. One of them survived the destruction of the ship and transmitted the message via his suit radio.
        • You're saying Lucifer is the same as Jupiter??? And you haven't gotten a lightning bolt shoved up your ass yet??? GREEK MOTHERFUCKER, DO YOU SPEAK IT???
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Culture20 (968837)

            You're saying Lucifer is the same as Jupiter??? And you haven't gotten a lightning bolt shoved up your ass yet??? GREEK MOTHERFUCKER, DO YOU SPEAK IT???

            Jupiter the planet was renamed Lucifer (lightbearer) when it became a star. 2010: ODYSSEY TWO, DO YOU READ IT???

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Just my interpretation, but I believe that the proto-omniscient intelligence assumed that whether or not humans let their curiosity get the better of them was irrelevant since it could easily stop any attempt at landing. The implied end of the monolith's message was really "ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE. UNDERSTAND THAT IT WOULD BE NO PROBLEM AT ALL TO THWART YOUR PITIFUL EFFORTS. NOTICE THAT JUPITER IS NOW A STAR? YEAH."

        And according to "2061: Odyssey Three," all attempts to send robotic probes failed w
  • if we were never sure that it couldn't "be hospitable to life", then nothing has changed.
    • Re:well.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @07:40PM (#31266538) Homepage

      Umm... Huh?

      Something changed all right. Our knowledge of conditions on Enceledus went from basically zilch to what you're reading about today thanks to the Casini probe.

      We weren't "sure" that it couldn't be hospitable to life because we didn't know very much about it, but for things that far away from the sun more or less the default estimation of habitability is "not likely".

  • Nothing new (Score:2, Informative)

    by Kitkoan (1719118)

    I've heard about this over a year ago, at a minimum.

    Same goes with Jupiter's moon Europa ( http://www.solarviews.com/eng/europa.htm [solarviews.com] ). Signs are that it could have liquid water inside, as quoted from the site: "Since liquid water existed in the past, could life have formed and even exist today? The primary ingredients for life are water, heat, and organic compounds obtained from comets and meteorites. Europa has had all three. From the images and data collected by the Galileo spacecraft, scientists believe

    • New stuff (Score:3, Informative)

      by Chris Burke (6130)

      Yeah, it's only showing up again because Cassini made another Enceladus flyby in late 09 and they're just releasing the pictures.

      This JPL article [nasa.gov] gives a better idea of what was new this flyby.

      A new map that combines heat data with visible-light images shows a 40-kilometer (25-mile) segment of the longest tiger stripe, known as Baghdad Sulcus. The map illustrates the correlation, at the highest resolution yet seen, between the geologically youthful surface fractures and the anomalously warm temperatures tha

  • They probably still have better broadband there than in the US.
  • Results like this make Enceladus one of the most exciting places we've found in the solar system.

    ... besides planet Earth.

  • by Jugalator (259273) on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @07:50PM (#31266626) Journal

    WTF. This is a moon! Use it for huge stuff that aren't what they seem, but not for actual moons!

    OK, I'm done. ;)

  • You mean that Arthur C. Clarke screwed up, and it's Enceladus, not Europa, that we're not supposed to land on?!? Damn!
  • Habitable? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by physburn (1095481)
    By Habitable they mean habitable by some life forms. A claim made for any place that happens to have liquid water in it. Since Enceladus has occasion steam, water jet out pooring doesn't mean it has a steady warm inner ocean, like titan is thought to have. I just read on Scientific American the latest results on the surface and interior of Titan. Titan has very good conditions for life, and since its so close to Enceladus, and the whole saturn system, is so full with minor particles, its easy to imagine l
    • A claim made for any place that happens to have liquid water in it.

      No, it's a claim made about places with liquid water, necessary materials (CHON elements, mainly), and an energy source of putative life to exploit. Liquid water just tends to be the toughest of those requirements to meet.

      Since Enceladus has occasion steam, water jet out pooring doesn't mean it has a steady warm inner ocean

      First, the jets are "occasional". They've been on as long as we've looked with Cassini and evidence suggests they've operated for a while. Second, no one is claiming a liquid ocean. In fact, I'm almost certain that's been ruled out for quite a while. What's being suggested is a small

  • It's life Jim but not as we know it, not as we know it! For one thing, these guys are living in a giant ice chest, so they are never at a loss for a place to keep their beer cold!
    • by Pikoro (844299)
      That's not a Star Trek quote! The next line is "There's Klingons off the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow, there's Klingons off the starboard bow, starboard bow Jim."

      Star Trekkin' [wikipedia.org]
      • Next you'll be telling me that "He's dead, Jim... you get his tricorder, I'll get his wallet!" isn't a direct quote from StarTrek either!
  • when can we open up a McDonalds and Best Buy?
  • OMG (Score:3, Funny)

    by pizzach (1011925) <pizzach.gmail@com> on Wednesday February 24, 2010 @09:20PM (#31267354) Homepage

    I for one believe we already have enough hospitals. Building them on Saturn would bring no new inherent value.

  • NASA is searching for life in Congress for support of a planetary science budget, so these announcements must be taken with a big dose of sodium chloride.

    Back in 1976, NASA flew the twin Viking missions to Mars, each with its own orbiter and stationary lander. All were quite successful. But at what a cost: something close to a cool billion dollars back then; that would be maybe four or five billion today. And there was another cost. To get support for the mission, NASA had to drum up expectations of fi

  • The surface shows small jets of water open to atmosphere. There are also closed regions with a higher temperature, possibly due to endothermic reactions.

    Enceladus is showing signs of having been colonized by a fairly sedentary life form symbiotic with large populations of other species incapable of manipulating their own environment adequately: Enceladus appears to be breaking out in sewage treatment plants.
     

  • Walmart is already looking at a few proposed locations on Enceladus. The clientele might look a bit strange compared to Earth based customers. Expect to see scores of people in pressed shirts and pants, conservative jewelry, and clean shoes.

  • Could look a a planet that is venting water into space around "warm" spots of -100 as "hospitable" to life.

    Sure its no vacuum in space, but it sure is hell ain't the forest moon of Endor either.

    Let me know when you find care bears and I'll get interested.

I never cheated an honest man, only rascals. They wanted something for nothing. I gave them nothing for something. -- Joseph "Yellow Kid" Weil

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