Enceladus is one of 62 moons which orbit the ringed giant Saturn, and scientists have previously detected the ingredients for life at the icy celestial body. Readings from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which passed Enceladus in 2016, detected the presence of methane in icy plumes being blasted out from the moon’s interior.
It is believed the icy shell surrounding Enceladus has an average thickness of 25 kilometres, but it is as thin as just one kilometre on the south pole of the moon, where the icy plumes were found.
The Cassini probe detected tiny fragments of minerals from the plume which suggested there were salt and silica dust in the spray which were formed through 90 degree Celsius water interacting with rock at Enceladus’s core.
NASA stated at the time that the methane could be a byproduct of alien activity.
A subsequent study found that some extremely tough microbes found on Earth could survive in the freezing conditions of Enceladus.
What’s more, is these hardy microbes could be eating hydrogen that is produced by interactions between water and rock beneath the icy surface of Enceladus.
For these reasons, top scientists are now calling for missions to Enceladus in the hope of discovering life for the first time away from Earth.
Amanda Hendrix, a planetary scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, said during a presentation coordinated by the National Academies of Sciences, said: “Enceladus is the only confirmed current habitable environment beyond Earth, it’s the only world meeting the canonical requirements for habitability.
“The next step is to search for signatures of life in the Enceladus ocean materials, and Enceladus makes it easy because it ejects its ocean material into space.
“We now know that there’s a lot of ocean worlds in our solar system and each as we currently understand it is unique and each offers something different to our understanding of ocean worlds.
“Enceladus is distinct from Europa [one of Jupiter’s moons] and Titan [another of Saturn’s moons].
“This is my personal opinion, but if we’re going after life in our solar system and we’ve got an ocean out there that’s just spewing itself out into space and making it easy for us.
“Let’s go do it, let’s not make things harder on ourselves by first trying to do a lander mission.
“This ocean at Enceladus could be a host to a whole separate genesis of life.
“It could be uninhabited or it could be in a prebiotic state, but regardless, any Enceladus mission exploring this ocean is going to provide groundbreaking discoveries.”