NASA’s Cassini Saturn Mission May Have Found “Habitable World” Target on EnceladusFirst Published: February 19, 2017 Last updated: February 7th, 2019 Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes Posted in: Space
For years now, NASA has been making creeping steps forward in their space progression. As other countries, such as India, continue to develop their own space programs, NASA has tried to pick up the pace. As the most influential and well-resourced space agency on the planet, though, they still share benefits over much of their competition. For example, they are running the hugely successful and exciting Cassini space mission. This mission has seen NASA return to where they were two decades ago, as part of a fly-by over the Enceladus moon of Saturn. This first-ever pass over the moon was an incredible moment for NASA – it was a landmark moment in their exploration.
The ultra-bright Enceladus is the most reflective object in our own solar system, apparently. Floating around in the middle of the faint ring of ice particles that float around the ring of Saturn. It was presumed for many years that these ice particles were being kicked off the surface in some way, and then just floating in space.
However, as ever, something else came into the vision of the observers – something odd. What they say wasn’t the massive hunk of floating dead ice that they expected – it was far different. What they found was something that was more akin to a gas-emitting comet. Indeed, they noticed that the magnetic field that envelops around Enceladus in the first place actually sat above the South Pole of the moon itself. That didn’t make sense, not in the general knowledge that we know about the make-up of dead worlds.
Now, the theory might actually be that instead of being a dead husk of a world, this is something far more. People now believe that the moon itself was actually breathing these gasses out into space, and then restoring itself afterward.
A Landmark Sighting
Immediately, a massive hunt took place to try and determine just how this would be taking place. NASA was so excited by what they found that they upped the fly-by levels from just three close fly-bys to 23. Seven of them even went directly through the geysers of the South Pole!
Before long, following the tiny trail that was now developed, NASA discovered something incredible. Enceladus was actually hosting a huge, salt-water ocean under its ice crust. The hope now is to find out whether or not it potentially also has hydrothermal venting on the seafloor of the planet.
Indeed, this landmark discovery points to one thing – our understanding of moons like Enceladus could be all wrong. Now, it’s likely that moons like this could actually be hosting all the qualities needed to host life and let it thrive.
This all came from one change in the magnetometer signal that was coming through from Enceladus. By pulling and pulling at the proverbial string, NASA was unable to uncover something that is frankly amazing. Over the years, we’ve found out things such as liquid methane being in the seas on the Titan moon.
Cassini has helped us break the glass on some very important factors that have happened over the years. It’s been majorly useful in helping us discover elements of the worlds around us that may have otherwise never been discovered.
While there’s still much to be found in the search for more information via Enceladus, this is a major breakthrough. Out of all the discoveries made by Cassini, the idea of life-supporting moons has to be up there.
This could be the significant breakthrough that we never intended or expected. However, how often is that actually the case?
VIDEO: Enceladus: Cassini Cracks the Case of the Icy Moon
Now that we have some pretty wonderful visual proof of Enceladus, it becomes a little easier to believe these latest discoveries about it. By using these narrow-angle cameras and green filters to get quality photos earlier on in February 2017, we’ve now been able to take the Enceladus mission further than ever before. What now, though? What next for this mission?
The mission has been going since 1997, after all, so how much more can we learn before the mission ends at the end of 2017?
That will be two long decades of discovery and learning. It’s hard to know how much more NASA and their Cassini allies, the European Space Agency and Italian Space Agency, can do. Ever since the first launch from Cape Canaveral in October 1997, we’ve been waiting for a major breakthrough. Time after time, the mission has delivered – so what’s left to uncover?
Well, this latest discovery might open up a whole new investigation itself. People are already talking about the idea that Enceladus could get its own purpose-built research team to try and work out what we know about this salt water. This should be the next aim for the Cassini operation – to get a specific craft out there to do some more learning. The water, the geysers and all the different factors that we never once understood about this planet has to be taken on further.
Already, meetings are taking place to see how we can further our research and knowledge of this factor. This is such a huge step forward in the right direction for the research project. With such a massive finding, we should be doing everything we can to more or less prove that planets out there can easily take on the needs of our – or other – species.
This might just be the path that sets us down to finding something more than we bargained for. The hunt for alien life is truly an incredible event and something that many hope we’ll get to see in our own lifespans. However, it’s been hard to prove that any planet nearby our own solar system has ever hosted any kind of life that we can understand.
At least now, we can look to Enceladus and know that it’s about as close as we’ve ever found in a nearby location. Out of all the discoveries made in recent years, this feels the largest.