Scientists are increasingly confident that an ocean below the icy surface of Enceladus could support life. (credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA)
The prospects for life existing in our Solar System beyond Earth and finding it within a decade or two improved with two scientific findings announced Thursday by NASA.
The space agency confirmed the presence of hydrogen in plumes emanating from Saturn’s small moon Enceladus, and it also reported that plumes are very likely to exist on Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Both of these findings are significant.
It means not only that most of the ingredients required for life must exist in the oceans of Enceladus but also that a pair of probes being planned to explore Europa will have a much better chance of finding any life there.
In something of an understatement, NASA’s Jim Green, who oversees the agency’s planetary exploration plans, said, “This is a very exciting time to be exploring the Solar System.”
The findings buttress a recent focus by NASA on bulking up a program to explore these ocean worlds in the outer Solar System, including Enceladus, Europa, and Saturn’s methane-covered moon Titan.
This has been a principal aim in particular for Texas Republican John Culberson, who serves as chairman of the House subcommittee over NASA’s budget.
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