Russian Company Wants to Explore Saturn's Moon Enceladus for Life Signs

Monday, 13 November 2017 - 7:50PM
Space
Solar System
Monday, 13 November 2017 - 7:50PM
Russian Company Wants to Explore Saturn's Moon Enceladus for Life Signs
NASA
As corporate space travel begins to get more and more complicated, many companies are looking to find ways to make their mark in the solar system.

Elon Musk seems to have a pretty good stranglehold on reusable rockets, and has set his sights firmly on Mars. That doesn't mean that this is the only interesting destination in our local neighborhood that's worth exploring - other companies are eager to find their own achievements to boast about in years to come.

Such is the case with Breakthrough Initiatives, a privately funded space exploration program that's bankrolled by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, which has a simple mission: find alien life. As such, the program is weighing up the benefits of launching a special mission to Saturn's moon Enceladus, with the express purpose of trying to seek out new life in a plume of water vapor that exists on the moon's surface.

All the way back 2005, when the long-lived space probe Cassini was still relatively new, it sent back footage of hundreds of geysers upon the surface of Enceladus, which subsequent trips revealed were part of a salt water ocean. It's theorized that this ocean may contain the right conditions for life to thrive, and as such, Breakthrough Initiatives wants to go see what's going on.



While a mission that involves landing on Enceladus would be prohibitively complicated and expensive, the geysers may hold a simpler solution. By flying a probe through the water vapor plume that's created by the geysers, Breakthrough Initiatives hopes to be able to sample the water and pick up traces of potential life forms. If there are simple micro-organisms found in that water, this would prove the existence of life on another planet.

Sure, this strategy for proving the existence of alien life isn't as much fun as sending down a landing party, but it's a lot more nuanced than another set of scientists' plans to study a neighboring moon's surface by smashing a probe into the icy ground just to see what happens.

According to Yuri Milner, speaking at The Economist's "New Space Age" summit:

Opening quote
"We formed a sort of little workshop around this idea: Can we design a low-cost, privately funded mission to Enceladus which can be launched relatively soon and that can look more thoroughly at those plumes and try to see what's going there ahead of a more expensive mission that NASA is considering right now, which might take maybe 10 years to launch?"
Closing quote


This "low-cost" solution is still going to cost $100 million, but it will at least be a lot cheaper than many ways of checking the ocean for life forms. If all goes well, we might only be a decade or so away from gaining definitive proof of the existence of aliens.

Of course, in another ten years' time, the solar system will be a very different place, with plenty of organization, both national and commercial, sending up rockets and astronauts to explore further beyond our own planet.

Even if the Breakthrough Initiatives mission doesn't yield results straight away, if there is life out there in the solar system, it's not going to be long now before we manage to find it.
Science
Science News
Space
Solar System
No