And just like that, life was discovered on another planet. No fanfare, no warning, there it was. Actually a moon, of Saturn, not far away at all.
Enceladus is of course way too cold for life. On its surface. It has a lot of water, not uncommon (Pluto has water mountains), but at such freezing temperatures it’s a hard rock. But below the surface you have volcanic heat, and since ice there is a rock, it turns out Enceladus has liquid water as its version of molten rock.
So, volcanoes or lava flows on Enceladus are plumes of water. And something else – methane! Chemical analysis shows the presence of unexpectedly high amounts of methane in these plumes – such as you would get if, as on earth, hydrothermal vents are populated by dense bacterial communities busy eating up metals, hydrogen and sulphur and making methane. In fact, if it’s not microbes, scientists are a bit at a loss to explain where the methane is coming from.
Now unlike me, these scientists are being professionally reserved and NOT claiming “it’s alien life, yay!” But the real possibility is there. It seems as high as a 50-50 chance that the subterranean oceans of geologically heated water on Enceladus with their volcanic plumes as on earth’s ocean floor, have similar microbial communities to those on earth. Those very communities where scientists increasingly consider life to have originated here.
An interesting story to follow