Enceladus

Year: 2018-19

Nisha Kumar

Grade: 10


"NASA’s primary objective for this mission is to find a place beyond Earth that is habitable to humans, and to find underlying proof of pre-existing life there to further support this hypothesis.

I strongly believe that out of the three satellites Europa, Enceladus and Titan, Saturn’s sixth largest moon, Enceladus, would be the most suitable destination to send a spacecraft to.

Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth largest moon, is an active ‘ocean world’ that we discovered could potentially harbor life when the Cassini spacecraft discovered that it had a vast ocean of liquid water under its crust. Water reacts with its rocky core to release warm, hydrogen-filled, mineral laden water into the ocean though hydro-thermal vents, and spew jets of icy particles out to its surface.This hydrogen gas could potentially provide for sustainable chemical energy. It formed an extensive plume that was composed of hydrogen and water vapor in space, and while some particles of water and simple organics fell back to Enceladus, some of it is said to have escaped to form Saturn’s E ring.

The Cassini spacecraft’s data had shown new findings in the later years as we learned that the moon had a strong magnetic field, which is important for protection from solar winds, and a stable atmosphere based on water vapor. The surface jets shoot water molecules into Saturn’s magnetosphere where it splits into hydrogen and oxygen on its way to Titan. We must find a way to see if the atmosphere itself contains oxygen, and how the temperature and gravity are over there, and if carbon-based life forms can withstand them.

The presence of simple organics and complex molecules on Enceladus is promising and should be further investigated, as this could lead to potentially sustainable life forms. This may also lead to the discovery of microbes and bio-organisms.

The Enceladus Life Finder mission, proposed in 2015 & 2017 but not selected, should be accepted by NASA to go through with further exploring hypotheses about Enceladus and discover new things. Cassini didn’t have the equipment to perform detailed and direct analyses, but using special instruments for mass spectrometry, chemical sensing etc., we might find things we have never encountered before. We should dig deeper into matters of organic molecules, sustainable chemical energy, magnetic fields, oxygen-based atmosphere, and exploring complex molecules rare beyond Earth etc.

These breakthroughs in a project to find life and to sustain it beyond Earth only proves how close scientists from all over the world are to accomplishing this ultimate goal. I believe that it is essential we send a spacecraft to Enceladus and look for signs of microbial life and other important aspects of sustaining life rather than trying to search everywhere and not utilizing what is right before us. There is more than enough evidence that there are high chances of habitable nature and existing life on this ocean world, so we must not let the opportunity to make revolutionary discoveries pass us by."

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