School: North London Collegiate School
Teacher: Mr. T Bate
Undeniably, one of the most significant goals of space investigation - if not the most significant one of them all - is the search for life outside of our own planet. In Saturn’s moon Enceladus, where concrete evidence of life has yet to be found, there are still many environmental conditions there which indicate that its development could be a distinct possibility there. As one of the few moons which contains water in all three of its forms, including a possible liquid ocean underneath its surface, Enceladus is one of the most likely candidates for life anywhere in the solar system and should therefore be the next target of the Cassini-Huygens satellite.
To start off, Enceladus has been confirmed to have an internal ocean between the icy surface and the rocky core. The nature of a moon’s orbit around a planet and the amount of libration(0.120° ± 0.014°) observed in the Enceladus’s orbit suggests that a hidden water ocean about 26 to 31 kilometers deep under the surface, causing a gravitational “wobble” between the detached crust and core. In addition, the possible presence of a geochemical source of heat makes Enceladus also a more likely place in the solar system to contain extraterrestrial life. In addition, the plumes on Enceladus emit water vapor that contributes to its atmosphere, which is another factor which could contribute to the formation of life as well.
Water vapor plumes on Enceladus are significant because it provides evidence that life may exist there . According to many scientists, including geochemists Eoghan Reeves, Jeff Seewald, and Jill Mcdermott at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, deep sea water vents on Earth may have been actually the first source where life developed. They believe that methanethiol, a compound speculated to be the precursor of Acetyl-CoA enzyme, is found in these vents which provide a basis for the emergence of life. This theory could explain the possible development of life on Enceladus as well. If the Cassini-Huygens satellite analyzes organic substances coming out of the plumes, it could potentially detect compounds that signal the possibility of life existing within Enceladus’s internal ocean.
The source of heat that provides energy to change the solid ice to liquid water is an interesting mystery to learn more about. One major cause of this heat is through tidal heating, which is caused by the gravitational pull from the Saturn’s massive mass which results in its water creating frictional energy. However, this is only accounts for a small percentage of the heat that is on Enceladus and more advanced investigations are required solve to fully account for the heat that exists there.