NASA’s made some pretty out-of-this-world discoveries that may point to life on two of Saturn’s moons

Quick Notes:

• NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Cassini–Huygens (“Cassini”) probe in 1997 to study several planets with a focus on Saturn and its moons
• Enceladus and Titan are two of Saturn’s moons that may support life
• Titan is the only known place in our solar system with rivers, lakes, and oceans

Scientists have often speculated about the possibility of life on Mars. But now space researchers are focusing on Enceladus and Titan, two of Saturn’s moons, after the Cassini space probe sent back incredible photos and data back to Earth. The probe went on a twenty-year mission exploring other planets, but its main objective was to study Saturn and its moons. The probe spent 12 years collecting data that now leads scientists to believe Saturn’s moons may hold signs of life.

Without water planet Saturn is like uninhabitable, its moons Enceladus and Titan have potential. Even if it’s not life as we know it, there is evidence that these two moons may be conducive to life. The likelihood of life is so high, that when the Cassini mission ended in 2017, scientists destroyed the craft by having it enter Saturn’s atmosphere rather than possibly contaminate any biological life on the planet’s moons.

Could this frosty moon hold life?

When Cassini did flybys of Saturn moon Enceladus, scientists were amazed to discover that the moon has hydrothermal geysers that spew out vaporized water and ice particles. Housed between its rocky core and icy crust is a liquefied saltwater ocean.

Data from Cassini revealed that this underwater sea was approximately six miles beneath the moon’s southern pole under a shell of ice that’s 19-25 miles thick. Researchers believe that Enceladus’ internal ocean may very well support life. As scientists spend more time reviewing their data, “we are finding more and more evidence for a habitable ocean world,” Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker revealed.

Image Courtesy: ][NASA.gov]

The secret life ocean Titan may be hiding

After exploring Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, Cassini discovered an atmosphere complete with clouds and rain. You could walk on Titan without a spacesuit, but you’d need an oxygen mask and something to keep you warm in its chilly -297 degree weather. NASA calls Titan a “unique, richly organic world.”

Except for Earth, Titan is the only known place with liquids forming oceans, rivers, and lakes. Could water on moon Titan be the home of some unknown form of life? It’s possible. Even more spectacular was what the Cassini probe detected beneath Titan’s crust. Inside the moon, there appears to be water that could sustain life.

NASA announces its Dragonfly mission

On June 27, 2019, NASA announced its Dragonfly mission, set for a 2026 launch that will arrive at Titan in 2034. One of the primary goals of Dragonfly is to leapfrog around searching for evidence of present or past life on moon Titan.

“With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do.” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine

NASA is currently designing shape-shifting robots for the project. “With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. Describing Titan as a “mysterious ocean world,” Bridenstine noted future exploration could revolutionize our understanding of the earth and universe. How many moons or planet in our universe may support life? NASA is hoping to answer that question.

A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101

Insane Rules for Astronauts Will Make You Rethink Space Travel | Science 101

Want to travel in space? Be prepared for the weird rules you’ll encounter if you’re on the space station.

Flat Earth theories get a smackdown courtesy of astrophysics | Science 101

The universe is filled with plenty of strange things, but you’ll be relieved to learn that a flat earth isn’t one of them.

Bennu: Simple a strange asteroid or home to an alien? | Science 101

Scientists say it’s an asteroid, but conspiracy theorists believe it could be an alien spaceship.