Scientists at NASA have revealed that extraterrestrial life may be thriving on one of Saturn's icy moons.
Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth largest moon, may be the most likely candidate for alien life in our solar system, according to new data compiled by NASA.
Published by Nature, an international science journal, the data – compiled by NASA’s Cassini space probe – has enabled scientists to confirm the existence of a large body of water deep below Enceladus’s southern pole.
The icy moon, one of 62 orbiting Saturn, may secretly host a substantial earth-like ocean beneath its frosty surface.
Scientists believe the ocean is supported by ongoing hydrothermal activity beneath the seafloor. Strikingly similar to parts of the ocean floor here on Earth.
“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” said John Grunsfeld, an astronaut from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
“The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the Universe.”
Since the moon is too far from the sun to provide sufficient heat, scientists have speculated that thermal energy beneath the surface may produce temperatures just right to support life.
The ice shelf surrounding Enceladus is reportedly 19-25 miles thick, with research published last year revealing that a six mile deep ocean may lie underneath.
The news comes after NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center indicated that Mars may have once supported a large ocean in its northern hemisphere; enough to to cover 20 percent of its surface – 4.5 billion years ago.
Enceladus is not the only terrestrial body orbiting saturn which could potentially harbor life.
A number of NASA scientists speculate that Titan’s methane-ethane seas also have the capacity to host organic life – though not, perhaps, as we know it.
The recent spate of discoveries surrounding Saturn and its moons comes as a result of NASA’s own Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, which arrived in orbit around the gas giant on June 30th 2004.
The spacecraft has spent the last decade studying Saturn and its various moons, with the goal of improving NASA’s understanding of the planet’s atmposheric composition and the geological history of its adjacent satellites.
Cassini is expected to continue this mission until sometime in 2017.