School: The Academy for Science and Design, Nashua, NH
Teacher: Kevin Harbison
"The concept of life in outer space has intrigued and excited the minds of many. For centuries, we have theorized about life outside of Earth. Discovering life in outer space could open doors for science, leading us to places we have never ventured. It could answer questions about how life operates in low gravity, how organisms may function with different structures and the different applications of genetic information. Our group has finally decided that the Enceladus Plumes are the leading candidate for the next search for extraterrestrial life. Our basis of judgement was the ability to harbor life. This includes whether the location accommodated and contained liquid water, a stable environment, an energy source, and certain chemicals required for life.
To sustain life, an environment must hold liquid water. There is definite evidence that proves that there is water on Enceladus. That evidence comes in the form of silica nanograins. These microparticles only form in liquid water and an environment whose temperatures exceed 90 degrees (19 degrees F). They were found in the E ring, which derives a majority of it's material from the Enceladus Plumes. As well as proving that there is liquid water on Enceladus, we also know that Enceladus is geothermally active from the swaths of new land on it's surface. This creates a theoretically stable environment. Organisms would be living under 19-25 miles of ice and approximately 6 miles underwater in order to get the heat from the near-center of the moon. Not only does Enceladus have the requirements for water, an energy source, and a stable environment, but it's Plumes also contain chemicals required for a sustainable environment such as nitrogen, hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, and methane.
The discovery of life on Enceladus would massively propel science and technology. If extraterrestrial life were present, we would be able to observe how basic lifeforms counteract the issues of prolonged existence in habitats with low gravity. We could also learn other ways in which life functions genetically and how it affects the Laws of Evolution. Evolution states that all creatures on the planet came from the same organism, which is why all organisms use DNA. If creatures that could not have inherited a DNA from Earth also use it, it suggests that either we got our genetic system from the same source or that the DNA/RNA system is the only system that can carry, execute, and replicate genetic information. Finding life away from Earth would yield tremendous scientific results and benefit future space explorations.
Life is a miraculous and fascinating phenomenon. It is crucial for the Cassini mission to look for any chance of extraterrestrial life in our solar system. We must take advantage of the ideal location that the Cassini probe is in, to provide imperative information that would otherwise take years to reach. That information would be put to use for future missions to Mars. We believe the Cassini mission to Enceladus will answer one of nature's greatest secrets and further our understanding of the universe."