Being so far from the sun, Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, shouldn’t have liquid water. On hearing that it does, my first thought was—colonize. However, when you read the whole story [link here>>> Extraterrestrial Ocean] you learn that the planetoid is, as you would suspect, a veritable snowball. Still it does have liquid water in places.
This doesn’t change my opinion; we need to establish a scientific station on Enceladus and do it ASAP.
The information in the above article tells us that snowball Enceladus receives fresh snow from the condensation of “volcanic” vapors, largely water, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and a few other things including organic materials. We can conclude that this geological venting may not come from a stone core like Earth’s, but rather a water core. Another indication that Enceladus is mostly water is that its shape deforms under the changing gravitational pull of Saturn and its other moons. This plastic warping is at least one cause for the heat generation deep within Enceladus and the resulting snowcone volcanoes that eject liquid or gaseous water into the atmosphere. This water solidifies and snows back down on the surface as well as trails like steamship exhaust in the planetoid’s wake.
Enceladus seems to be losing mass. We need to hurry before it’s all gone because where there is liquid water, there will be life. Certainly, when our probe dips into that lunar sea to check for life, it, like a fly in a Petri dish, will inoculate the water with life from Earth—if we aren’t careful. Maybe long ago such a probe got us started.
It’s clear that Enceladus is not a friendly place. Temperatures go from extreme cold to extreme hot. Also the Pacific Rim is rock solid stable compared to Enceladus’s plasticity.
Still we need to design a probe and send it. At the same time we should design a robot operated scientific station to place in one of Enceladus’s moderate temperature zones. Such a station could use the heat from a geothermal vent to generate the power it needs.
In addition we should plan to place a manned station in orbit near Enceladus. All this work should start concurrently. We shouldn’t wait seven years to get the results from the probe before starting the next step.
Big time science and the commitment to explore our own solar system.
Some questions that could be studied are:
1. The geology of a non-stone planetoid that is under huge periodical gravitational forces.
2. Life form(s) that have developed independent of ours. In the process we could learn more about the origins of life on Earth. If Enceladian life has DNA similar to ours then it would imply that all life in our solar system was seeded from a common spore source.
3. The establishment of a deep space astronomical observatory which would provide: a cleaner spot to search for extraterrestrial signals, a better location to study distant stars for Earth-like planets, and, most importantly, an early warning station for approaching star-farers.
4. And of course there are a bunch of applied physics issues that science could go gaga over. Of particular interest is the close proximity of extreme heat and extreme cold.
That’s my list. I leave every branch of science to propose experiments with the same creativity that they used to latch onto global warming funds. In any case, it’s time to put America back to work expanding our knowledge about the solar system, the galaxy, and maybe even Earth.