Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus might be hiding a big secret under its ocean. Two separate studies have come to the same conclusion: there’s most definitely evidence of hydrothermal activity happening on Enceladus, resembling the same activity seen in the deep oceans 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,” explained John Grunsfeld, a NASA astronaut and associate admin of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.
The implications are big; if the environment on Enceladus is suitable for life, it suggests we might not be alone after all. Researchers have been attempting to answer the age-old question for years, with evidence all across the universe suggesting our little bubble isn’t the only planet with life.
NASA provided a handy illustration that charts how the activity might be occurring on Enceladus. Here on Earth, hydrothermal activity happens when seawater “infiltrates and reacts with a rock crust and emerges as a heated, mineral-laden solution.”
The activity was observed by NASA’s Cassini satellite when its cosmic dust analyzer (CDA) instrument detected rock particles rich in silicon. Researchers concluded that the particles were actually grains of silica, which is formed here on Earth by the hydrothermal activity.
Saturn’s Enceladus has been a point of interest of NASA’s for years, with researchers discovering just last year that there’s a hidden ocean under the moon’s icy surface. Now we’ve moved onto the exciting possibility that the satellite planet may have an environment suitable for life.
“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?” Grunsfeld said.