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16-18 years old: Ice plumes at the south pole of Enceladus

 Author: Elena Peralta Rodán

SELECTED OBJECTIVE: Ice feathers in the south pole of Enceladus.

OBJECTIVE OF THE INVESTIGATION: To know the composition of the ocean found under the surface of Enceladus to analyze the possibility of existence of life in a satellite of our solar system.

REASONS: Water  is a basic component of life. Therefore it is fundamental to study in depth the possibilities offered by a liquid medium in another satellite of our solar system so that it fulfills the necessary conditions for the existence of life.

DATA OR EVIDENCE: The Cassini-Huygens probe has detected:

1. The existence of a large global ocean of liquid water between the ice surface of the satellite and the rocky inner core.
2. About 100 geysers ejecting jets of steam from salt water, organic compounds and ice particles from the underground ocean.
3. Part of the emitted water vapor falls back to the surface in the form of ice and the rest escapes into space and supplies most of the material forming the E ring of Saturn.
4. Some geological activity, which offers great resemblance to terrestrial plate tectonics. The so- called "tiger stripes" are similar to the submarine terrestrial ridges, that is to say, the ocean ridges, through which material comes out of the interior and forms a new crust. The geological activity seems to occur periodically, when hot ice from the interior of Enceladus rises to the surface breaking the crust
5. Possible hydrothermal vents along the rocky surface at the bottom of the ocean. Such sources could harbor life thanks to the existence of water and temperature.


A visitor probe like Cassini, if it had the necessary instruments, would not have to land to search for life, but it would suffice to fly through the geysers to collect samples and analyze them.

1. The system is based on a process called "bubble wrap", which consists of collecting samples of the bubbles that rise through the water when they explode by expelling the possible microbes contained in the spray.
2. It is a method that allows to collect many samples and that is cheaper and faster than sending a probe that will land on the frozen surface.
3. The only problem to be solved is to find the way of collecting samples of water jets that rise at high speed without breaking the microorganisms that they may contain.
4. New techniques are being studied to photograph microbes in a reliable way because with this capture system it is difficult to differentiate a cell from any other particle.
5. The most important molecules to look for are amino acids, the basic components of proteins, which are present in kites and meteorites.


The  relative  proximity  of  Enceladus  would  allow  to  send  successive  probes  to  study  it,  with  an increasingly advanced technology, whose cost would not be as high as that of other space proposals.

Last Update: 19 May 2017

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