The Atlantic

Microbes Could Thrive on Saturn's Icy Moon

The case for potential life in the underground ocean of Enceladus is looking better and better.
Source: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute

In 2005, a NASA spacecraft flew past Enceladus, an icy moon of Saturn, snapping pictures and recording observations as it went. When scientists processed the data, they saw plumes of mist erupting from the cracked surface of the moon’s south pole and into the emptiness of space. The plumes, the spacecraft’s instruments had found, were made of water vapor.

Scientists were stunned. Enceladus is small, just 300 miles wide, and its surface reflects sunlight rather than absorbs it. For these reasons, they had expected the moon to be frozen solid, yet here was some that Enceladus was alive, geologically speaking, and hiding a liquid ocean between an icy crust and a rocky core.

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