Space Fact of the Week
NASA Makes Plans for Ocean Worlds
Illustration of Cassini spacecraft in Enceladus plume
NASA recently shared new research regarding the "Ocean World" moons of Saturn and Jupiter!
While orbiting Saturn, the Cassini spacecraft has discovered evidence of hydrogen gas emitting from the plumes on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. Researchers believe this indicates that Enceladus has an ocean just beneath the surface, which is where the hydrogen plumes come from! Although no life has been discovered, these plumes could be an energy source for life on Enceladus. "Although we can’t detect life, we’ve found that there’s a food source there for it. It would be like a candy store for microbes, " said Hunter Waite, team lead for Cassini’s ion and neutral mass spectrometer.
NASA also recently found new information about the plumes on Europa, Jupiter’s moon and it is also anticipated to have an ocean beneath its surface. The plumes on Europa had been previously detected by the Hubble Space Telescope but appeared to be intermittent. Now, NASA is in the process of developing Europa Clipper, a mission to Europa that will orbit Jupiter and make multiple flybys of the moon to gather more research. An ultraviolet spectrometer is going to act as the "plume finder" on Europa Clipper and will be able to decipher the composition of the plumes. This mission is estimated for launch as soon as 2022, depending on the launch vehicle!
Looking at the age of Europa vs Enceladus, it seems more likely at this point that Europa has a better change of supporting life, as it was formed more than 4 billion years ago when Jupiter was formed. "That’s a lot more time for life to have emerged and start taking advantage of these energy sources, " Astrobiology senior scientist at NASA Headquarters, Mary Voytek said. "So my money, for the moment, is still on Europa. "