After last week’s news that organic material had been found in the atmosphere of a planet in a totally different solar system I find it hard to get hugely excited about organic molecules being found by the Cassini mission orbiting Saturn; but NASA scientists are apparently over the moon. (press release).
The moon in question is Enceladus, which is getting so much attention these days Saturn’s other satellites are said to be getting quite upset. Hunter Waite, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, explains the latest reason for the scientist’s fawning devotion to the winsome lump of ice:
A completely unexpected surprise is that the chemistry of Enceladus, what’s coming out from inside, resembles that of a comet. To have primordial material coming out from inside a Saturn moon raises many questions on the formation of the Saturn system.
This implication is that Enceladus might have formed in a slightly different way to the rest of the moons and planets.
During the Cassini probe’s flyby of Enceladus its mass spectrometer saw way more gas, water, carbon dioxide and organic material than expected — 20 times more in fact.
The probe also found higher temperatures than expected on fissures at the south pole. This means there’s more chance of liquid water somewhere on the Moon. All this adds up to that old chestnut that NASA loves dangling before ever–hopeful journalists: life in space!
“Enceladus has got warmth, water and organic chemicals, some of the essential building blocks needed for life,” says Dennis Matson, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We have quite a recipe for life on our hands, but we have yet to find the final ingredient, liquid water, but Enceladus is only whetting our appetites for more.”
On another note, the south pole fissures are named after middle eastern cities. You can make up your own joke about Americans finding Baghdad hotter than expected…
Image upper: Voyager 2 mosaic of Enceladus / NASA
Image lower: Enceladus Plume Neutral Mass Spectrum / NASA