Suspected Hydrothermal Activity on Enceladus Raises Hopes for Life

Lights in the Dark

Enceladus' ice geysers contain particles hinting at hydrothermal activity.Enceladus’ icy geysers contain particles of silica and methane hinting at hydrothermal activity.

Ever since their discovery by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005, the plumes of icy particles that are being fired into space from deep gashes along the southern pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus have intrigued planetary scientists and astronomers immensely. Here we have a world in our own Solar System, relatively not so far away, where all evidence points to a subsurface sea of considerable volume and depth containing salts and organic compounds – not unlike our own ocean – and, based on recent analysis of data collected by Cassini, there are likely also heat sources in the form of hydrothermal vents.

Water plus organics plus heat… these are the three key ingredients for life as we know it, and now we know they’re not only on Earth but also underneath the icy crust of a 318-mile-wide moon orbiting…

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