Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
2020 April 27
Explanation: How will humanity first learn of extraterrestrial life? One possibility is to find it under the icy surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. A reason to think that life may exist there are long features -- dubbed tiger stripes -- that are known to be spewing ice from the moon's icy interior into space. These surface cracks create clouds of fine ice particles over the moon's South Pole and create Saturn's mysterious E-ring. Evidence for this has come from the robot Cassini spacecraft that orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017. Pictured here, a high resolution image of Enceladus is shown from a close flyby. The unusual surface tiger stripes are shown in false-color blue. Why Enceladus is active remains a mystery, as the neighboring moon Mimas, approximately the same size, appears quite dead. A recent analysis of ejected ice grains has yielded evidence that complex organic molecules exist inside Enceladus. These large carbon-rich molecules bolster -- but do not prove -- that oceans under Enceladus' surface could contain life. Another Solar System moon that might contain underground life is Europa.
Authors & editors:
Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
NASA Official: Phillip Newman Specific rights apply.
A service of: ASD at NASA / GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.