NASA to Kill Cassini to Protect Alien Ocean World on Saturn's Moon Enceladus From Contamination

Apr 15, 2017 02:33 PM EDT

Is there life on Saturn's moon Enceladus? New information from NASA's Cassini mission reveals that a form of chemical energy that could support alien life has been found on Saturn's moon Enceladus. The space agency is determined to protect the moon from contamination by destroying its Cassini spacecraft.

According to a new study published in the journal Science, Saturn's moon Enceladus has molecular hydrogen which is produced by water vapor that shoots out of the moon's warm subsurface ocean. The new discovery adds to the probability that Enceladus could be a habitable zone despite it being covered in ice.

The study notes that the plume that shoots out of the moon's ocean contains "chemical signatures of water-rock interacton between the ocean and rocky core." The scientists detected hydrogen in the plume via Cassini's Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer. NASA's Cassini flew directly through the plume back in October 2015.

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EarthSky notes that hydrothermal vents, just like the plumes on Saturn's moon Enceladus, are commonly found on Earth. These formations are usually home to different types of microbial life.

"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, lead author of the study from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

Despite the astounding discovery of the alien water world near Saturn, NASA announced that it will be destroying Cassini by September 15, 2017. The $3.26-billion NASA probe will have its "Grand Finale" via a collision course with Saturn.

"That last 'kiss goodbye' will put Cassini into Saturn. This is a roller-coaster ride. We're going in, and we are not coming out -- it's a one-way trip," said Earl Maize, engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Maize said that Cassini's discovery of the active water world on Enceladus led to the probe's own demise. He added that NASA had to destroy Cassini to avoid contamination of the newly discovered "pristine body."

"We cannot risk an inadvertent contact with that pristine body. Cassini has got to be put safely away. And since we wanted to stay at Saturn, the only choice was to destroy it in some controlled fashion," Maize said.

According to IFL Science, NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn started in 1997 and has since sent back various information regarding the planet and its moons. Currently, the spacecraft is running low on resources and will fly between Saturn and its rings before it's destroyed.

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