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Cassini Finds Evidence of Water

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the hey-there-little-space-buddies dept.

167

CheshireCatCO writes "Scientists working on the Cassini Mission think that they have found compelling evidence for the existence of liquid water at the south pole of the moon Enceladus. In addition to the obvious puzzles relating to how temperatures can be held high enough for liquid water, the presence of water, as well as the detection of organic molecules, opens up the possibility for life at Enceladus's south polar region. The findings are to appear in the 10 March issue of the journal, Science"

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167 comments

Business Plan: (5, Funny)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885203)

1. Send equipment to southern Enceladus

2. Bottle the icy-cold water

3. Ship bottles to Earth

4. Sell "Enceladus Springs" at outrageous prices

5. (Need I say more?)

Re:Business Plan: (3, Funny)

Alex P Keaton in da (882660) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885219)

You forgot
6. Get modded down for a tired joke.

Re:Business Plan: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885423)

MOD PARENT UP. People who mod a funny joke as troll are just upset they didn't think of it.

Re:Business Plan: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885470)

forgot
7) ??
8) Profit

Re:Business Plan: (1)

Ninjy (828167) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885667)

I think he covered that in 5.

Re:Business Plan: (1)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885229)

Funny, but I'm pretty sure that consuming alien bacteria might be ill-advised.

Re:Business Plan: (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885386)

Funny, but I'm pretty sure that consuming alien bacteria might be ill-advised.

But it says "Natural" on the label! It must be good to consume!

Re:Business Plan: (2, Funny)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885424)

True, but I heard that Apples contain arsenic!

Modified plan: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885410)

1. Send equipment to southern Enceladus

2. Bottle the icy-cold water

3. Ship bottles to Earth

4. Sell "Enceladus Springs" for low low price

5. Sell cure for Andromeda Strain's revenge at outrageous prices.

Arthur C Clarke says ... (4, Funny)

nmccart (952969) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885208)

All these worlds
Are yours except
Europa
Attempt no
Landing there
Use them together
Use them in peace

Re:Arthur C Clarke says ... (1)

Shut the fuck up! (572058) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885294)

Shut up you fucking shithead. The space program is not going to be dictated by your beloved Clark. Why does this shit get modded up? Oh, yeah, by fucking morons.

Re:Arthur C Clarke says ... (1)

Illbay (700081) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885296)

So he was right, except it was Enceladus, after all...

Re:Arthur C Clarke says ... (1)

KenAndCorey (581410) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885307)

All these worlds
Are yours except
Europa
Attempt no
Landing there
Use them together
Use them in peace
Naww... that was just for Jupiter. It's a free-for-all on Saturn's moons.

Re:Arthur C Clarke says ... (4, Informative)

Etcetera (14711) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885481)

Ironically enough, the original 2001: A Space Odyssey story (it remains this way in the novel) has them visiting Saturn, NOT Jupiter. Supposedly it was changed in the movie because the effects people ended up not being able to make a convincing Saturn. IIRC the Monolith is on the moon Iapetus [wikipedia.org] -- a black dot visited smack in the middle of the extraordinarily high contrast between its faces.

Clarke's 2010(+) novels follow the cinematic version and keep them visiting Jupiter.

Re:Arthur C Clarke says ... (4, Funny)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885330)

> All these worlds
> Are yours except
> Europa
> Attempt no
> Landing there
> Use them together
> Use them in peace

All these world
Are belong to you
Except Enceladus
Move no Zig there
For great justice
And because it will get wet

Re:Arthur C Clarke says ... (1)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885949)

All these worlds
Are hard to survive
Terraform Enceladus
Nukes are the answer
Somebody set up us the bomb
Sort of like on Mars

Re:Arthur C Clarke says ... (1)

vague disclaimer (861154) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885522)

Actually the "Use them together use them in peace" was only in the movie. Peter Hyams did the screenplay.

Great! (4, Funny)

christopher240240 (633932) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885228)

That's the perfect place for me and my rag-tag band of misfit rebels to establish a secret base! I just hope that taun-taun life is sustainable there.

Saturn (3, Informative)

Illbay (700081) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885233)

It should be noted that Enceladus is a moon of the planet Saturn.

Yeah, I know a *true geek* such as typically is found on /. will know this without looking it up, but for those afraid to ask...

Re:Saturn (4, Informative)

conJunk (779958) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885327)

Yeah, I know a *true geek* such as typically is found on /. will know this without looking it up, but for those afraid to ask...

Well, we didn't even need to get the name of the mood, we *all* know where the Casini probe is and what it's doing...

Re:Saturn (1)

Minwee (522556) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885512)

Well, we didn't even need to get the name of the moon, we *all* know where the Cassini probe is and what it's doing...

Yes, it's on its way to Titan [nasa.gov] .

Re:Saturn (3, Informative)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885420)

It should be noted that Enceladus is a moon of the planet Saturn. Yeah, I know a *true geek* such as typically is found on /. will know this without looking it up, but for those afraid to ask...

A true geek might not be expected to know all the moons of the Solar System - I confess I would have had only a 50% chance of getting Enceladus right - but he would certainly be expected to know that the Cassini spacecraft is in orbit around Saturn. Has been for about five years, IIRC. Thus we are unlikely to hear reports of major discoveries made by Cassini about moons of Jupiter, or perhaps of Neptune.

Re:Saturn (5, Informative)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885740)

Cassini was launched in 1997 and entered Saturn's orbit on July 1, 2004. On December 25, 2004 the probe separated from the orbiter and probe reached Saturn's moon Titan on January 14, 2005

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassini-Huygens [wikipedia.org]

Re:Saturn (4, Interesting)

dotslash (12419) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885570)

Also notable: This finding is more puzzling because Enceladus is not thought to have "volcanic" activity. It is too small and cold to sustain a molten core, or plate tectonics. Which makes this finding the ultimate irony, since Enceladus is the ancient greek god/giant of volcanos, who was burried under mount Etna, hence the volcano there.

When they named Enceladus, the moon was considered incapable of sustaining volcanic activity, but maybe the name changed all that!

H2O? (5, Funny)

imstanny (722685) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885245)

Do they know that it's Water as in H2O or simply a liquidy viscuous substance that shoots from a small opening at the tip of the moon?

Re:H2O? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885310)

On-board spectrometers can tell that this is water.

Re:H2O? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885368)

How can a spectrometer work without combustion? The optical spectrum of a water jet is no different from any other clear liquid, right?

Re:H2O? (4, Informative)

Jon Luckey (7563) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885468)

How can a spectrometer work without combustion?

You can read spectrums as patterns of light absorbtion bands as well as light emission bands

Re:H2O? (4, Informative)

Cybrex (156654) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885311)

It's H2O. They've been able to specifically identify the Hydrogen and Oxygen, and the ratio is correct.

Re:H2O? (1)

PFI_Optix (936301) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885510)

That, or it's a rather unforunate solution of liquid oxygen and hydrogen bubbles.

(is that even possible?)

Don't light a match.

Re:H2O? (1)

jacksonj04 (800021) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885751)

Possible, but there's a lot of ways to turn two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen into water.

Re:H2O? (2)

HarvardAce (771954) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885458)

simply a liquidy viscuous substance that shoots from a small opening at the tip

Judging by current replies to this post as well as its moderation (+2 Interesting), am I the only one that has my mind in the gutter? I have to believe that the OP was trying to be at least a little suggestive...

Re:H2O? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14886075)

yes. you are the only one who thought they were referring to a penis.

Maybe . . . (3, Funny)

ndansmith (582590) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885680)

Do they know that it's Water as in H2O or simply a liquidy viscuous substance that shoots from a small opening at the tip of the moon?

It's oil. Now we can get our petrol without having to rely on those unstable sources like Canada.

Re:Maybe . . . (1)

Noodles (39504) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885849)

If it were oil, the US would have invaded years ago.

Re:H2O? (1)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885921)

There are plenty of worlds we have discovered with liquids.. generally liquid oxygen and whatnot.. I'd have to guess they know what they are doing. Either way from what I can gather its just above 0C that these are occuring, too warm for liquid gases, and liquids of most other substances are much heavier and generally don't plume up at small temperature changes.

Pardon me... (1, Funny)

GillBates0 (664202) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885247)

...while I run out to light up my giant "WELCOME TO EARTH" sign.

That is some cold water (4, Interesting)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885255)

In the spring of 2008, scientists will get another chance to look at Enceladus when Cassini flies within 350 kilometers (approximately 220 miles), but much work remains after Cassini's four-year prime mission is over.

We need a closer look, but it would be interesting to gather some samples of this water and see if it contains microorganisms of any kind.

Re:That is some cold water (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885394)

The practicality of sending a probe to the surface of a far-flung moon for remote experimentation or return payload for terrestrial experimentation aside, the worry with such a procedure would be contamination. The Galileo Spacecraft [wikipedia.org] was plowed into Jupiter's atmosphere to prevent any earth-bound contaminants from entering Europa, another planetoid that's on the short list of places that are likely to be able to support life. Some might see it as a grand irony if our experiment to find out if there's life on Enceladus, only to find that earth-bound microorganisms take seed there and multiply. It's an entirely different irony if the probe ends up being toxic to the indigenous life.

So, do we sit back, millions of miles away, speculating as to whether life exists there, or endanger the life we seek to discover by "getting a closer look" to see if it exists? Quite a conundrum, isn't it?

Re:That is some cold water (2, Insightful)

Iphtashu Fitz (263795) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885456)

The practicality of sending a probe to the surface of a far-flung moon for remote experimentation or return payload for terrestrial experimentation aside, the worry with such a procedure would be contamination.

But why not just do something similar to the Mars rovers? Have a self-contained laboratory that can do all the necessary analysis there. It'd probably be a lot cheaper than trying to retrieve a sample and return it here, and you wouldn't have to worry about contamination, etc.

Re:That is some cold water (3, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885843)

But why not just do something similar to the Mars rovers? Have a self-contained laboratory that can do all the necessary analysis there. It'd probably be a lot cheaper than trying to retrieve a sample and return it here, and you wouldn't have to worry about contamination, etc.

Well, if all you had to care about was contaminating the sample you took, what's the big worry? The worry is that microorganisms are incredibly resistant and could survive the trip from Earth to the moon. In fact, there are whole theories about earth being seeded by microorganisms from an asteroid although I consider those pretty far out. But it doesn't get any better by the fact that a) it's coming from a place we know is full of microorganisms, b) space probes travel much shorter, c) land more gentle, d) need radiation shielding and livable operating temperatures. You can read more here [wikipedia.org] about how hard these bastards are to kill. Sending a probe there would be almost as much a medical task (sterilization, contaminant detection, seals) as space travel.

Re:That is some cold water (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885972)

The practicality of sending a probe to the surface of a far-flung moon for remote experimentation or return payload for terrestrial experimentation aside, the worry with such a procedure would be contamination.

But why not just do something similar to the Mars rovers? Have a self-contained laboratory that can do all the necessary analysis there. It'd probably be a lot cheaper than trying to retrieve a sample and return it here, and you wouldn't have to worry about contamination, etc.

Firstly, sending a self-contained labratory to do experiments there on the moon's surface is sending a probe to the surface of a far-flung moon for remote experimentation, which was the first option mentioned in the snippet you quoted.

Also, note that this in no way removes the chance of contamination, it probably increases the chance. Even though these probes are assembled in clean rooms and every attempt is made NOT to contaminate the probe prior to flight, it's impossible to make sure that the probe is 100% free of earthborn life. Airborne viruses might get caught inside the probe, and could wreak havoc on the alien biology, for instance. Other posts here illustrate the problems of microorganisms, but the problem isn't necessarily that our microbes could taint their microbes; the very probe itself could very well contaminate the moon on its own. Remember, the probe very likely would NOT be chemically inert; it could poison the water that it touches. A probe sitting on the surface of a planet for all eternity will degrade and erode. Obviously this is purely hypothetical, but imagine that part of this probe was lead. If a chunk of lead fell into our drinking water, we'd suffer consequences and eventually succumb to lead poisoning. Lead is poisonous to us to some degree, and we can't be overexposed to it. Well, what is poisonous to extraterrestial life that we're investigating? How do we make sure that there's nothing we leave on that planet that damages the ecosystem?

Alternatively, let's assume that we can send a probe which is totally inert and nonthreatening to the moon's environment. We have the possibility of creating something akin to a artificial reef [wikipedia.org] , as life grows around the probe and becomes dependent on it. Are we trying to seed life, encourage life, or study life? Where do we cross the line between letting life grow as it may and interfering with its evolution?

Re:That is some cold water (2, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 8 years ago | (#14886043)

Other posts here illustrate the problems of microorganisms, but the problem isn't necessarily that our microbes could taint their microbes; the very probe itself could very well contaminate the moon on its own.

Well, given Enceladus' location, there should be a lot of exposure to metallic meteorites including more lead and other heavy metals than you could possibly cram on a probe.

Re:That is some cold water (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14886264)

Which is really side-stepping the issue, just because the metal of the probe may not have any adverse affect on the ecosystem, that doesn't mean that items like the plastics and rubbers and solar panels won't harm the environment. I'm not saying that it's wrong to send a probe to where life may exist full of all sorts of (from the moon's perspective) alien technology and materials, that's a moral decision, and is therefore subjective. What's not subjective are the following facts:
  1) We don't know what's up there
  2) We don't know how it will react to what we send there
We want to find out more. How do we learn about this moon, in this case? Sit back and observe indirectly, flying high above in orbit? Or do we get our elbows greased and dive right in there, up close, landing on the moon to examine it? Our standards for this world (and Mars) have been that it's okay to interfere with the environment for the sake of learning. We send probes places, we dissect specimens, we leave our technology all around the environment. Are we to keep this up indefinitely? Cluttering space with our trash? Is our solar system to become a repository for evidence of all our past scientific endeavors, our fingerprints on everything? Do we clean up after ourselves, or not get things dirty in the first place? What is our role in all this?

That remains to be decided.

Re:That is some cold water (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14886292)

Apples and oranges. The Galileo Spacecraft was plowed into Jupiter's atmosphere because it wasn't properly decontaminated (not needed for something that stays in space and takes pictures). Equipment that is meant to land and search for life will obviously be decontaminated.

Gotta read it all (0, Offtopic)

TheCarlMau (850437) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885271)

Hopefully people just don't read the headline: " Cassini Finds Evidence of Water." Well, duh... I found water along time ago. ;)

slashdotted already? (5, Funny)

spanklin (710953) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885287)

I teach astronomy, and I just tried to go to Cassini's website for some information for a presentation I'm giving next week. When I found the Cassini website down with some strange error, I clicked over to /. to check the news until their site comes back up. Lo and behold, the first story on /. is about Cassini.

Did you all purposely do this?

Re:slashdotted already? (1)

MrPink2U (633607) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885385)

Yes and no. We never mean to break anything, but it happens all the same. It's called the /. effect.

Re:slashdotted already? (4, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885398)

Well, ciclops.org is feeling the load quite badly at the moment. We're still on a single T1 and we're serving up a lot of very large images at the moment. Apologies if the site is slow or unresponsive. (And we're working on getting another line, but... bureaucracy is happening.)

Re:slashdotted already? (1)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885539)

I teach astronomy, and I just tried to go to Cassini's website for some information for a presentation I'm giving next week. When I found the Cassini website down with some strange error, I clicked over to /. to check the news until their site comes back up. Lo and behold, the first story on /. is about Cassini.
Did you all purposely do this?


Isn't it common knowledge that /. is really a diabolically clever sceme hatched by a group af evil hackers with the intention of harnessing the insatiable curiosity of thousands of unsuspecting nerds to contuct DOS attacks on websites the proprietors of /. don't like?

Re:slashdotted already? (1)

VisiX (765225) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885652)

For all of you who ask why the stories are always crappy and irrelevant, this is why. The evil hackers hate boring, irrelevant news. There are a few good news stories thrown in here and there just to throw you off the trail, and to keep you coming back.

Blame Drudge (1)

garyrich (30652) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885596)

He's had a banner running on this for several hours before /.

Re:Blame Drudge (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14886033)

Largely because he leaked the story before the embargo (set by the journal in this case, I believe) was lifted.

But we knew that he is an asshat, so this hardly tells us anything we didn't know.

Re:Blame Drudge (1)

garyrich (30652) | more than 8 years ago | (#14886254)

Don't tell me anyone really expects him to respect an embargo, do they?

PS: I expected to see Carolyn Porco or at least some NASA PR flack on NASA TV at 11am PST with this. Instead they were just running some grainy archival stuff that looked circa Gemini. disappointing.

Re:slashdotted already? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14886161)

Unfortunately, Cassini's web server is being run from, well, uh.. Cassini. You should expect limited bandwidth and latency will be atrocious. There were plans to move the site to a location a little bit more Earth-based, but unfortunately there was no room in the budget. Sorry.

Predictable rabble (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885288)

All /. comment so far have nothing to do with the news. *sigh* Always the same with astronomy items.

An interesting thing about this news item was that the NASA press release announcement regarding "something massive" was assumed to be a declaration from NASA stating that they had found life elsewhere.

Re:Predictable rabble (1)

crymeph0 (682581) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885402)

Yeah, all NASA's/JPL's/etc.'s press conferences seem to be way overhyped like that. There's always something on SpaceRef or one of the other sites about some press conference that will reveal major findings, then when it comes around, it's like, meteor fragments on the moon or something else that we could probably have guessed.

Re:Predictable rabble (3, Insightful)

Golias (176380) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885474)

All /. comment so far have nothing to do with the news. *sigh* Always the same with astronomy items.

The news: The most simple and common combination of two extremely common elements might have been noticed on a large rock, very far away.

Like most astronomy news, it's incredibly boring unless you let your imagination run wild and start dreaming about colonies, alien life, or other flights of fancy... so it's no surprise that most of the /. posts are just people cracking stupid jokes.

Send a rover on over. (1)

qualico (731143) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885302)

I'd love to see a rover there.

Wonder what is causing the warm temps.

Re:Send a rover on over. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885346)

Wonder what is causing the warm temps.

Bush and Cheney. It's a massive conspiricy to allow Haliburton to drill for oil there. Those crafty fucking Neocons. Let's get Barbara Striesand on the case to post a nasty note on her "blog". Keep fighting the man Barbara, keep fighting the man!

Re:Send a rover on over. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885619)

better yet, they should send the Red Rover over there.

I don't like to complain but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885313)

Is there any reason the oficial NASA site fails to mention this is a -joint- project with the ESA? Just curious. Or was the Huygens probe the ESA part of Cassini-Huygens?

Re:I don't like to complain but.. (3, Funny)

creimer (824291) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885446)

All of the NASA money is going into manned space programs. Money for the science space program depends on how much money is left over from updating the website.

Re:I don't like to complain but.. (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885508)

If you're talking about the office site at JPL, that's because it *does* mention that Cassini/Huygens is a joint venture. Quite a lot, in fact. Including at the end of the official press-release. ciclops.org isn't an offical NASA website, it's the site for one instrument on Cassini. We're funded by NASA, so we're not a joint venture. (Although there are team members who do hale from Europe.)

Really dumb question... (0)

Khyber (864651) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885318)

Isn't moving water a bit difficult to freeze, because of friction? Could this (if it is water,) be moving at fast speeds?

Supercooled water (1)

LunaticTippy (872397) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885445)

You can have supercooled water if it isn't moving at all.

Neat page w/video [f0rked.com]

I've heard of water as cold as -40C.

Re:Supercooled water (2, Insightful)

vapspwi (634069) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885629)

It generally has to be pretty clean water, too, at least from what I've observed. We put bottles of filtered water in the fridge here at work all the time, and it supercools - if you're careful, you can drink some nice, below 32F water, but if you shake it up or bump the bottle too much, the water will crystalize into an icy slush. Pretty neat trick. Unfiltered water just seems to freeze solid in the freezer, though.

JRjr

Re:Supercooled water (3, Interesting)

LunaticTippy (872397) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885716)

Your observations are dead on.

Anything that seeds the crystallization will do - an ice crystal works best, but particles or shock will do.

I had a bottle of cider camping (I don't know the temperature, but my kerosene froze) that stayed liquid until I opened it. Spiderwebs of ice forming inside, quite beautiful, followed by the crack of the bottle breaking.

Re:Really dumb question... (4, Informative)

biraneto2 (910162) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885686)

The current theory is found in this link [nasa.gov]

And... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885324)

Cue the religious nuts...

Re:And... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Monkey (795756) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885379)

I have never heard a peanut, almond, pecan, or walnut express religious convictions. On the other hand, the Pecan Pie is the lord of all other nut deserts.

That's no moon... (4, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885354)

...it's an Evian station!

Re:That's no moon... (1)

sryx (34524) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885611)

That's no moon.. It's a...
Oh wait a minute, yes that is a moon, my bad.
:P
-Jason

Ob Simpsons Reply (0)

chinton (151403) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885404)

I for one, welcome our Cassinian Microbial Overlords.

Re:Ob Simpsons Reply (1)

chinton (151403) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885429)

Thats "Cassinian", pronounced "Enceladacian". :)

Re:Ob Simpsons Reply (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885830)

I for one, welcome our Cassinian Microbial Overlords.

Well, with organics and methane, perhaps, but perhaps they use RNA and are Cassinian Viral Overlords? For all we know, they could already have an array of BSD devices built with buckyball technology that operate inside the liquids, and are merely waiting for an unsuspecting crew to land ...

Yeah, sure... (5, Insightful)

Wavicle (181176) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885431)

1) Suggest a possible discovery of liquid water out there
2) Make allusion to possibility of life emerging there
3) ???
4) Grant Funding!

I'm as much a fan of discovery as the next scientifically minded person, but this has become a little tired in recent years. Every time a possible discovery of liquid water creeps up, the potential for life always follows in the very next paragraph if not the next sentence. One would wonder what would happen if we found a vast reservoir of liquid water but no life in it. I imagine some segment of astrobiology would be so incredulous as to insist on probing it until an earth born microbe manages to survive the trip and contaminate the discovery.

When I was first reading this I thought "Wow, wouldn't it be interesting to figure out how liquid water could have existed there." Then came the inevitable "hey, maybe there's life there!" I just gave up. The conditions for liquid water are remarkable enough, do we need to include the outrageously small probability of life developing before we've looked at the more answerable questions like "where's the heat coming from?"

Re:Yeah, sure... or How I Love Grants (4, Interesting)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885557)

1) Suggest a possible discovery of liquid water out there
2) Make allusion to possibility of life emerging there
3) ???
4) Grant Funding!


Well, the avian-human transmission of influenza was actually discovered by a research scientist who wanted an excuse to go surfing in Australia, so he proposed a grant to study if seabirds were a reservoir for influenza that infects humans.

Turns out they were. Plus, he got some good surf in.

So, maybe we should investigate the surfing potential of this moon, and maybe we'll discover a cure for cancer ...

Re:Yeah, sure... (5, Insightful)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885624)

The water thing is tired because the Mars community has over-done it pretty badly. This is a case where liquid water should not exist (based on what we know right now), so it's pretty remarkable.

I mentioned the possiblity of life only because of the detection of organic molecules. Frankly, I think that the odds of life are quite slim, but this discovery *does* add Enceladus to a rather short list of good places to look. Even if there is no life, we can learn a lot about the abiotic formation of organics and probably put some better constraints on the conditions under which life might develop. So I'm not saying that there is life or that we should expect to find any, merely that this makes Enceladus an interesting place for astrobiologists.

Re:Yeah, sure... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885757)

I don't understand why people are so eager to find life on other planets.


I imagine some segment of astrobiology would be so incredulous as to insist on probing it until an earth born microbe manages to survive the trip and contaminate the discovery.


What about the moon born microbe surviving the trip home to earth and contaminating us? (Yes, I realize this is a long way off, but it is an eventuality )

It's in the realm of possibiltiy for a single xenologic microbe to cause our entire planet's demise (as we know it) war-of-the-worlds or ender's game series style. I for one am not too excited for that day to come.

Re:Yeah, sure... (2, Insightful)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885839)

...do we need to include the outrageously small probability of life developing...

Well that's just the POINT, isn't it?
I mean, right now we have liquid water on one planet, where life developed. Statistical correlation of 1.0 (great!) over a sample size of 1 (not so great).

Neither you, nor I, nor Carl Sagan, nor all the scientists at NASA knows/knew whether the 'probability of life' is large, small, or somewhere in between. What we're talking about though is DOUBLING our sample size which is a pretty big deal, although still doesn't get us very far (statistically speaking).

Here is a link to the original story (0, Offtopic)

peachsnapz (448245) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885486)

www.cfnews13.com

Is this Heavy Water? (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885528)

or is it liquid due to being compressed due to the denser air of the moon?

One wonders what it's exact chemical makeup - and impurities or compounds - are.

Re:Is this Heavy Water? (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885687)

They found some organics and methane. No ammonia has been detected, much to my surprise.

And I assume you're joking about the denser air? Enceladus's surface is a vacuum.

Re:Is this Heavy Water? (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885805)

They found some organics and methane. No ammonia has been detected, much to my surprise.

And I assume you're joking about the denser air? Enceladus's surface is a vacuum.


Interesting. But how much of a vacuum? One would expect, if there were liquid water, even with organics and methane (liquid), for there to be some gasses, even if only a wispy vaporous layer clinging to the liquids. Ice transpirates to gas for water fairly easily.

Re:Is this Heavy Water? (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885897)

There is certainly the plume above the surface, but I doubt that the pressure there is anything even remotely near Earth standards. Remember, a lot of the vapor is escaping into space freely, so it's a fair bet that the exobase is right at the surface of the moon.

Further Link (5, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885560)

The editors changed my story link. My original submission had http://www.ciclops.org/ [ciclops.org] which has not only the press-release but several supporting images which might be of interested. Granted, our server is feeling the load pretty badly at the moment, but that'll probably ease up in a little while.

I, for one, welcome our new Enceladean overlords (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14885693)

Er, it is "Enceladean", right?

Same old news with a new press release and a (!) (1)

kartaron (763480) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885708)

They reported the same stuff about a year ago. Water mixed with ammonia is heated by an unstable crust and ejects into space at superheated temperatures. This keeps the surface relatively smooth. What, are they now MORE convinced that this is water?

Re:Same old news with a new press release and a (! (4, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885750)

Speaking as someone who worked this: no we didn't. We knew that there was a plume earlier but as far as we knew it was warm ice that produced it. And that wasn't a year ago that we announced the discovery of the plume, either.

The new measurements suggest that there too much water vapor in the plume to be warm ice and it almost has to be liquid water.

Also, there is no detection of ammonia so far.

We're still talking very cold temperatures (3, Informative)

PIPBoy3000 (619296) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885764)

If you look at a temperature map [solarviews.com] of Enceladus, it's still quite cold, perhaps 100 degrees Kelvin. With virtually no pressure, it's enough to cause evaporation and the formation of water. There's a good write-up here [solarviews.com] .

So, don't expect to see exotic creatures swimming about. It might end up being a great place to mine for water, however, supporting future colonies of Saturn. The moon has virtually no gravity, so you could practically throw it off the surface (well, not really - the escape velocity is 212 m/s).

Re:We're still talking very cold temperatures (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885828)

Bear in mind that those temperatures have low spatial resolution. We know from somewhat recent measurements with CIRES on Cassini that the "tiger stripes" are significantly warmer than the surrounding ice. We don't have a direct measurement showing *how* warm they get at the really hot parts (since even the CIRES measurements included a lot of cooler ice) until we can get a really close flyby that lets CIRES zoom way in on a stripe.

That said, if the finding here is right, the water reachs around 270 K. Which isn't fun to swim in, but it's a lot better than 100 K!

Threat to humans? (2, Interesting)

ecorona (953223) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885802)

So say there are organisms that live on Saturn's moon. My fear is that they are extremely efficient at utilizing resources since they probably don't have many resources there. If we all of a sudden bring them back to earth where the resources for are that much higher then how do we know they won't spread unstopably and destroy us all?

Re:Threat to humans? (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885853)

Who is planning to bring them back?

Even if we did return a sample for Saturn, planetary protection protocols are (supposed to be) pretty strict. So I wouldn't lose sleep over it, especially since any organisms on Enceladus are probably not suited for life on Earth.

Re:Threat to humans? Or Is Paranoia Contagious? (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885944)

Good point. Let's alert the President and he can declare war against said organisms since they might have WMDs. Or Oil. I'm sure one of those two things will get his attention ...

Re:Threat to humans? (1)

MrSquishy (916581) | more than 8 years ago | (#14885996)

Because we would welcome them as our Overlords, duh!

Let's use some logic (2, Funny)

Expert Determination (950523) | more than 8 years ago | (#14886088)

Pluto is made of solid matter. The Earth is made of solid matter (it least its surface has a large solid component). There are computers on Earth. So maybe there are computers on Pluto. I vote that we allocate funds to NASA to research this hypothesis.

Neptune (1)

wall0159 (881759) | more than 8 years ago | (#14886101)

I remember seeing a doco about one of Neptune's moons (I forget which, it was at least 5 years ago).

That moon had oceans of Nitrogen, with a frozen nitrogen surface. Scientists thought that the energy to thaw the oceans came from the elliptical orbit of the moon. this caused variations in gravity which contorted the core of the moon - producing heat.

Pretty awesome, IMO.. ;-)

Re:Neptune (3, Informative)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 8 years ago | (#14886307)

That sounds like Triton, although I don't think we have any direct detections of a nitrogen ocean. There are certainly plumes erupting from the surface, though, so it's definiately possible.
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