With Curiosity’s approaching Mars landing, there is much attention on the search for life on the red planet. But many scientists believe Saturn’s moon Enceladus is a better place to look. This tiny, icy world is only 310 miles in diameter, but some consider it the best place to look for extraterrestrial life in our solar system.Astrobiologist and professor Charles Cockell of Edinburgh University is one scientist who would rather send a probe to Enceladus than Mars or any of Jupiter’s moons. He believes that:
Primitive, bacteria-like lifeforms may indeed exist on these worlds but they are probably buried deep below their surfaces and will be difficult to access. On Enceladus, if there are lifeforms, they will be easy to pick up. They will be pouring into space.
As The Guardian explains, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is responsible for the recent interest in Enceladus. The probe discovered that the moon has an atmosphere, and that geysers of water are erupting from its surface into space. But the probe’s most recent discovery shows that “these geysers contain complex organic compounds, including propane, ethane, and acetylene.”
NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay tells The Guardian that Enceladus is the perfect place to look for life. “It has got liquid water, organic material and a source of heat. It is hard to think of anything more enticing short of receiving a radio signal from aliens on Enceladus telling us to come and get them,” McKay explains.
This moon seems like the perfect place to send a sample-collecting mission. And although proposals for missions to Enceladus are in the works, any mission to this icy moon will require patience. Any such mission will take a reported thirty years to complete.
So, for now, Mars will have to do.