One of the unexpected discoveries of a possible home for life in our solar system was recently reported to have been found on a moon of Saturn called Enceladus. While it is relatively small (only a few hundred kilometes across), the icy surface covers a body of water about the size of Lake Superior but 50 times deeper. This is a very significant volume of water. Like Europa, it creates the heat for the liquid water from gravitational stresses caused by orbital interactions with its home planet.. The sixth largest moon of its Saturn, it pushes out ice crystals from its interior. These are quite beautiful. See picture:
The existence of liquid water was suspected since the Cassini images from 2005 began to arrive, but have now been confirmed by a study published in the Journal of Science in April of 2014. While the surface temperature is minus 180 degrees Celsius, the temperatures beneath the ice layer are high enough to maintain a high volume of liquid water.
How do we know that water exists there in substantial volume? The answer is provided by ultra high accuracy readings from the Cassini space probe taken by NASA’s Deep Space Network. They discovered that there is a “negative mass anomaly” at Enceladus’ south pole which is highly likely due to mass quantities of liquid water.
What does this mean for life. The simple answer is nobody knows. Like Europa, it would take a specialty mission to the surface where meltabots could heat their way through the ice layer until they reached the water below. With millions of years of time, penetrating meteors, and the presence of liquid water, it is entirely possibly that evolution has begun to spin it’s magic beneath the surface of this icy world.
What a day it would be to watch as the first meltabot cameras peered into the icy darkness of Enceladus and humanity watched as a creature swan into our imagination. Aqualung anyone?