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Enceladus - Oasis or Ice Ball?

Enceladus - Oasis or Ice Ball?

Publication date: 14 June 2008

Authors: Kieffer, S.W. & Jakosky, B.M.

Journal: Science
Volume: 320
Issue: 5882
Page: 1432-1433
Year: 2008

Copyright: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Is it possible for life to exist on Enceladus, the tiny (500 km diameter) icy satellite of Saturn? The Cassini mission found giant gaseous plumes erupting from a tectonically active and warm south polar region. One highly publicized interpretation is that liquid water is present, possibly within tens of meters of the surface, or possibly only at depths of tens of kilometers. An antithetical interpretation is that Enceladus is frigid, stiff, thoroughly solid and composed of ice with interstitial gases to great depths. However, liquid water is just one of the three environmental conditions that are generally thought to be prerequisites for life. There must also be access to the elements out of which complex molecular structures can be constructed--mainly C, H, O, N, S, and--as well as an energy source that can drive metabolism. We examine the range of possible environments on Enceladus that are consistent with the observations in terms of their implications for harboring life.

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