Saturn's Moon Enceladus May Host Life Beneath Its Icy Crust in Its Vast Ocean

First Posted: Dec 24, 2015 09:57 AM EST

Could Enceladus host signs of life? After the last close flyby of the dwarf planet by the Cassini spacecraft, scientists are now looking forward to better understanding Saturn's moon and possibly learning a bit more about this icy world.

Enceladu has intrigued researchers during each of the Cassini flybys. This is mostly due to the fact that Enceladus hosts geologic activity. During its flybys, Cassini also found that material gushed from warm fractures near Enceladus' south pole. There's also strong evidence for a subsurface sea, which may mean there's a global ocean beneath the moon's icy crust.

So what does this mean for life on the moon? It's certainly possible that there are small organisms living beneath this icy crust. The fact that there is an ocean could mean that there are conditions hospitable to life.

"We bid a poignant goodbye to our close views of this amazing icy world," said Linda Spilker, the mission's project scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a news release. "Cassini has made so many breathtaking discoveries about Enceladus, yet so muc hmore remains to be done to answer that pivotal question, 'Does this tiny ocean world harbor life?'"

Cassini will continue to monitor activity on Enceladus from a distance through the end of its mission in Sept. 2017. Future encounters with Enceladus, though, will be much further away. In fact, it will be more than four times farther than its latest encounter.

With that said, scientists are now examining the images from the close flyby in hopes of better understanding the icy world. With that said, it will take a bit more time before researchers can say whether conditions on the icy world are hospitable to life. If they are, though, there could be future missions to the world to test whether or not there are organisms living within this ocean.

For more information on the Cassini mission, visit NASA's website.

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