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posted by martyb on Sunday June 25 2017, @06:41AM   Printer-friendly
from the life-will-find-a-way,-but-will-we-find-a-way-to-find-life? dept.

Saturn's icy moon Enceladus is best known for its numerous geysers ejecting plumes of water and ice. These eruptive fountains perplex researchers searching for signs of microbial life beyond Earth. A dedicated spacecraft designed to study the plume-like features spewing from Enceladus could definitely tell us whether or not they contain alien microorganisms.

"We need a spacecraft to travel to Enceladus, fly through a geyser plume, and analyze the water that is immediately accessible," Geoffrey Marcy, a retired professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, told Astrowatch.net.

Marcy is a renowned exoplanet researcher who discovered many extrasolar worlds. He was one of the co-investigators of NASA's Kepler planet-hunting mission that detected more than 4,000 exoworlds.
...
"The remarkable aspect of the search for microbes in the water spurting from geysers is that the spacecraft only needs to fly through the plume, well above the surface of Enceladus. No lander is needed—just a succession of flybys through the plumes as it orbits Enceladus," Marcy said.

He noted that such spacecraft should be fitted with a mass spectrometer to detect organic compounds that could be signs of microbial life. The spectrometer will look for amino acids and the structure of any organic molecules, especially fatty acids such as those composing cell membranes. It could also measure the relative amounts of isotopes of carbon (12 and 14) to detect non-natural anomalies due to biological processes.

Moreover, the mission to Enceladus would measure the properties of the water such as pH, oxidation and temperature, therefore assessing its suitability for organic life.

Marcy believes assembling "a brilliant team of billionaires" is the key to making such a mission possible. Lucky for him the monolith said nothing about Enceladus.


Original Submission

Related Stories

Porous Core Could be Keeping Enceladus Warm 3 comments

A study has found that a "porous"/sandy/muddy core can increase the energy released by gravitational tidal friction inside Saturn's moon Enceladus. This could explain why the interior of the icy moon has not cooled down after billions of years:

A paper published in Nature Astronomy today presents the first concept that explains the key characteristics of 500 km-diameter Enceladus as observed by the international Cassini spacecraft over the course of its mission, which concluded in September.

This includes a global salty ocean below an ice shell with an average thickness of 20–25 km, thinning to just 1–5 km over the south polar region. There, jets of water vapour and icy grains are launched through fissures in the ice. The composition of the ejected material measured by Cassini included salts and silica dust, suggesting they form through hot water – at least 90ºC – interacting with rock in the porous core.

These observations require a huge source of heat, about 100 times more than is expected to be generated by the natural decay of radioactive elements in rocks in its core, as well as a means of focusing activity at the south pole.

The tidal effect from Saturn is thought to be at the origin of the eruptions deforming the icy shell by push-pull motions as the moon follows an elliptical path around the giant planet. But the energy produced by tidal friction in the ice, by itself, would be too weak to counterbalance the heat loss seen from the ocean – the globe would freeze within 30 million years.

[...] In the new simulations the core is made of unconsolidated, easily deformable, porous rock that water can easily permeate. As such, cool liquid water from the ocean can seep into the core and gradually heat up through tidal friction between sliding rock fragments, as it gets deeper.

Powering prolonged hydrothermal activity inside Enceladus (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-017-0289-8) (DX)

Previously: Hydrogen Emitted by Enceladus, More Evidence of Plumes at Europa
Cassini Finds Evidence of Change in Enceladus's Spin Axis
Could a Dedicated Mission to Enceladus Detect Microbial Life There?
How the Cassini Mission Led a 'Paradigm Shift' in Search for Alien Life


Original Submission

Yuri Milner Considering Privately Funded Mission to Enceladus 6 comments

Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire backer of Breakthrough Initiatives and Breakthrough Prizes, has set his sights on Saturn's moon Enceladus:

Milner founded the $100 million Breakthrough Starshot project, an attempt to send small probes to Alpha Centauri. Now, he has announced plans to explore funding a mission to Enceladus.

[...] "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, try to see what's going on there?" Milner asked the New Space Age conference in Seattle this week.

A probe to Enceladus could be done for well under $1 billion, but it likely wouldn't be able to drill through the icy surface.

The Cassini spacecraft already flew as close as 49 km above the surface of Enceladus, and flew through a plume of water vapor released by the satellite. A proposed mission such as the Enceladus Life Finder could repeatedly fly through plumes and use better sensors to attempt to detect evidence of organic materials or microbes.

Two upcoming missions will be studying Jupiter's moon Europa: the ESA's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer and NASA's Europa Clipper. Europa is easier for spacecraft to reach than Enceladus, but has thicker ice blocking its internal ocean.

Also at Newsweek.

Related: NASA Releases Europa Lander Study 2016 Report
Hydrogen Emitted by Enceladus, More Evidence of Plumes at Europa
Could a Dedicated Mission to Enceladus Detect Microbial Life There?
How the Cassini Mission Led a 'Paradigm Shift' in Search for Alien Life
Cassini Spacecraft Post-Mortem
Porous Core Could be Keeping Enceladus Warm


Original Submission

Complex Organic Molecules Found on Enceladus 4 comments

Saturn moon a step closer to hosting life

Scientists have found complex carbon-based molecules in the waters of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Compounds like this have only previously been found on Earth, and in some meteorites. They are thought to have formed in reactions between water and warm rock at the base of the moon's subsurface ocean.

Though not a sign of life, their presence suggests Enceladus could play host to living organisms. The discovery came from data gathered by the Cassini spacecraft.

Also at SwRI, ScienceAlert, Space.com, National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, and The Guardian.

Macromolecular organic compounds from the depths of Enceladus (DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0246-4) (DX)

Related: Minerals In Plumes of Enceladus Indicate Hydrothermal Activity
Hydrogen Emitted by Enceladus, More Evidence of Plumes at Europa
Could a Dedicated Mission to Enceladus Detect Microbial Life There?
How the Cassini Mission Led a 'Paradigm Shift' in Search for Alien Life
Cassini Spacecraft Post-Mortem
Porous Core Could be Keeping Enceladus Warm
Yuri Milner Considering Privately Funded Mission to Enceladus
Organic Molecules Found on Ceres
NASA Finds Evidence of Water Plume on Europa
Organic Matter Found on Mars
Study Finds Evidence of More Organic Material on Ceres


Original Submission

Amino Acids Could Exist Just Centimeters Under Europa's Surface 15 comments

Europa Lander May Not Have to Dig Deep to Find Signs of Life

If signs of life exist on Jupiter's icy moon Europa, they might not be as hard to find as scientists had thought, a new study reports. [...] NASA aims to hunt for such samples in the not-too-distant future. The agency is developing a flyby mission called Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in the early 2020s. Clipper will study Europa up close during dozens of flybys, some of which might be able to zoom through the moon's suspected water-vapor plumes. And NASA is also working on a possible post-Clipper lander mission that would search for evidence of life at or near the Europan surface.

It's unclear, however, just how deep a Europa lander would need to dig to have a chance of finding anything. That's because Europa orbits within Jupiter's radiation belts and is bombarded by fast-moving charged particles, which can turn amino acids and other possible biosignatures into mush.

That's where the new study comes in. NASA scientist Tom Nordheim and his colleagues modeled Europa's radiation environment in detail, laying out just how bad things get from place to place. They then combined these results with data from laboratory experiments documenting how quickly various radiation doses carve up amino acids (a stand-in here for complex biomolecules in general).

The researchers found significant variation, with some Europan locales (equatorial regions) getting about 10 times the radiation pounding of others (middle and high latitudes). At the most benign spots, the team determined, a lander would likely have to dig just 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) or so into the ice to find recognizable amino acids. In the high-blast zones, the target depth would be on the order of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm). (This is not to imply that potential Europan organisms would still be alive at such depths, however; doses there are high enough to cook even the hardiest Earth microbes, study team members said.)

Also at Motherboard and Gizmodo.

Preservation of potential biosignatures in the shallow subsurface of Europa (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-018-0499-8) (DX)

Biosignature hide and seek (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-018-0542-9) (DX)

NASA Will Support Initial Concept Studies for Privately Funded Mission to Enceladus 4 comments

NASA to support initial studies of privately funded Enceladus mission

NASA signed an agreement in September with a foundation to support initial studies of a privately funded mission to a potentially habitable moon of Saturn. The unfunded Space Act Agreement between NASA and the Breakthrough Prize Foundation, initiated with little public fanfare, covers NASA support for initial concept studies, known in NASA programmatic parlance as "Pre-Phase A," for a mission to the moon Enceladus, an icy world believed to have a subsurface ocean of liquid water and plumes that eject that water through the surface into space.

The agreement, the seven-page document posted on a NASA website states, "shall be for the purpose of cooperating on the Breakthrough Pre-Phase A activities for Breakthrough's Enceladus Mission." That includes supporting a series of reviews that leads up to what NASA calls Key Decision Point (KDP) A, "to determine progress to Phase A, for further formation of the Enceladus Mission's concept and technology development."

[...] Most of the study work would be done by Breakthrough. NASA, under the agreement, would use "reasonable efforts" to offer scientific and technical consulting for the study, including expertise in a range of scientific fields and in planetary projection. NASA will also advise "in the development of Phase A plans for a life signature mission to Enceladus." The agreement between NASA and Breakthrough involves no exchange of funds. NASA estimates its cost of carrying out its responsibilities under the agreement to be $72,384.

The agreement, first reported by New Scientist, offers few details about the proposed mission itself. A companion document for the agreement notes that the foundation's Breakthrough Watch program "seeks to evaluate near-term missions to objects in the Solar System, including Enceladus," that would search for signs of life there. "The Enceladus Mission is considering novel low-cost approaches, one of which uses solar sail technology to flyby the moon of Saturn to collect scientific data.

However, foundation officials have publicly discussed their interest in an Enceladus mission for a year. "We formed a little workshop around this idea," said Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire who funds the foundation, at an event in Seattle in November 2017. "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 to try to see what's going on there?"

Also at Space.com.

Previously: Yuri Milner Considering Privately Funded Mission to Enceladus

Related: Underground Ocean on Enceladus May be Close to the Surface
Hydrogen Emitted by Enceladus, More Evidence of Plumes at Europa
Could a Dedicated Mission to Enceladus Detect Microbial Life There?
How the Cassini Mission Led a 'Paradigm Shift' in Search for Alien Life
Porous Core Could be Keeping Enceladus Warm
Complex Organic Molecules Found on Enceladus


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @06:51AM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @06:51AM (#530812)

    Fuck off to Galt's Gulch on Enceladus and don't ever come back.

    Love,
    The People of Earth

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @07:30AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @07:30AM (#530818)

      I'd suggest a manned mission to the sun myself.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @10:44AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @10:44AM (#530836)

      Fuck off to Galt's Gulch on Enceladus and don't ever come back.

      I'm sorry AC, I'm afraid I can't do that.

  • (Score: 2) by MostCynical on Sunday June 25 2017, @08:05AM

    by MostCynical (2589) on Sunday June 25 2017, @08:05AM (#530821) Journal

    "No."

    --
    "I guess once you start doubting, there's no end to it." -Batou, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
  • (Score: 2, Disagree) by Runaway1956 on Sunday June 25 2017, @08:42AM (19 children)

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 25 2017, @08:42AM (#530827) Journal

    The mission could ONLY detect microbial life, if microbial life exists there. Searching for microbial life on Enceladus could prove to be equivalent to searching for a weeping willow tree in the Mojave.

    Seems a little silly to fly a fragile craft through a water plume, anyway. How do you predict how much water will erupt from the geyser, or how high you should fly, to prevent being knocked out? Ehhh - I'm sure it can be done, but expect to lose some ships along the way.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @10:54AM (16 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @10:54AM (#530838)

      Yes, it will be difficult. But isn't finding any form of extraterrestrial life the first step towards moving Man Kind away from religion governing the majority of its decisions? Sure, it will be a slow leak in the balloon of religious beliefs, but it will open enough eyes that it will be the start of the end of unofficial theocracies.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @11:55AM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @11:55AM (#530851)

        No, they will just attempt to preach to the heathen microbes about the second coming of Jizzus.

        • (Score: 3, Funny) by c0lo on Sunday June 25 2017, @03:24PM

          by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 25 2017, @03:24PM (#530889) Journal

          they will just attempt to preach to the heathen microbes about the second coming of Jizzus.

          If only!!
          I'd contribute to a kickstarter to send the religious nuts to preach whatever and whomever they want on Enceladus.
          I'd even don't care if they'd do it on Pluto.

          --
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0 https://soylentnews.org/~MichaelDavidCrawford
      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday June 25 2017, @12:36PM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 25 2017, @12:36PM (#530858) Journal

        But isn't finding any form of extraterrestrial life the first step towards moving Man Kind away from religion governing the majority of its decisions?

        As I see it, how much disappointment are you willing to experience in your life? The answer to your question is "no". Religion has nothing to do with extraterrestrial life (and you may note that we already have an explicit ET meme in some modern religions like Scientology) so it won't be affected by the eventual discovery of extraterrestrial life except as a near-trivial incorporation of that discovery into their religious doctrines and efforts.

      • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Sunday June 25 2017, @01:59PM (12 children)

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 25 2017, @01:59PM (#530874) Journal

        Speaking of silly, that question is pretty silly as well.

        Let us presume that there really is a God, who created life on earth. Is there anything in any Holy Book that precludes the possibility that God ALSO created life in other places? Uhhhh - no, finding life, any type of life at all, will most definitely NOT convince anyone, anywhere, that there is no God.

        Far more likely that the failure to find life anywhere else would convince the religious that their beliefs are really for real.

        And, that doesn't even begin to take into account the various interpretations of where God lives, or his heavenly host, or where man's spirit is supposed to reside in the afterlife or next life.

        There have been many Sci-Fi stories which have explored the idea of religion in the solar system, religion in the galaxy, and religion in the wider universe. Read some David Drake - he envisions that mankind will still be fighting over religion on any new planets we settle. He wrote one story about a war being fought, based on a disagreement about what color some silly religious bauble should be. Flags, insignia, armbands, even civilian clothing marked the believers on each side. White or red? And, I can't even remember what the stupid bauble was, I only remember offhand that it was either red or white.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @09:34PM (7 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 25 2017, @09:34PM (#530963)

          Speaking of silly,

          Hey, it's Runaway!

          that question is pretty silly as well.

          Of course it is! How could it be otherwise? Infallable word of God, vs. science! What could possibly go wrong? Except Islam, that is not a science.

          Let us presume that there really is a God, who created life on earth.

          I would rather not. You're hurting me, Runaway!

          Is there anything in any Holy Book that precludes the possibility that God ALSO created life in other places?

          Ummm, maybe not, but it is kind of like finding out you have a bunch of half-brothers and sisters in a secret family that Dad kind of neglected to ever mention . . . Bastard said we were special!

          Uhhhh - no, finding life, any type of life at all, will most definitely NOT convince anyone, anywhere, that there is no God. Far more likely that the failure to find life anywhere else would convince the religious that their beliefs are really for real.

          So, let me get this straight: discover life, they still believe in the Magical Sky Fairie; discover NO like, they still believe in Magical Sky Faerie. Are you saying that facts and evidence just do not matter to Congressional Republicans and religious types?

          And, that doesn't even begin to take into account the various interpretations of where God lives, or his heavenly host, or where man's spirit is supposed to reside in the afterlife or next life.

          And, finally, the silly answer. Nobody is talking about where god lives, or where he keeps his "host", or, what the heck is "spirit", anyway? After/next life? You left out Underworld and Kate Beckingsale.

          There have been many Sci-Fi stories

          Tru, dat.

          And, I can't even remember what the stupid bauble was, I only remember offhand that it was either red or white.

          And true this even more is.

                I feel so much better after Runaway has cleared up all the silliness. Compared to the technical difficulties of piloting a space craft through water-jets, like the Star-Lord in the opening sequence of the "Guardians of the Galaxy, Part One", the difficulties posed by religious silliness are truly insurmountable. As Schiller wrote, " "Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens". And hey, there is even a Science Fiction story!

          The Gods Themselves is a 1972 science fiction novel written by Isaac Asimov. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1972,[2] and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1973.[3]

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gods_Themselves [wikipedia.org]

          • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Monday June 26 2017, @12:12AM (6 children)

            by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 26 2017, @12:12AM (#531013) Journal

            Very good, little AC, you are familiar with one of Asimov's stories. And, did Asimov establish that space travel would put an end to religion? A simple yes or no would do very nicely here.

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26 2017, @01:02AM (5 children)

              by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26 2017, @01:02AM (#531044)

              A simple yes or no would do very nicely here.

              No, it would not. Little, tiny-handed Runaway. Your post is completely off-topic. A simple "failure to respond" would do even more nicely here. Can you do that, Runaway? Well, punk, can ya?

              • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Monday June 26 2017, @04:00AM (4 children)

                by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 26 2017, @04:00AM (#531098) Journal

                Eat my shorts.

                • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26 2017, @08:49AM (3 children)

                  by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26 2017, @08:49AM (#531206)

                  Cannot! Too little! I knew you could not help but respond, oh Runaway of very little brain! Now, tell me what you think of this post! The power of Christ compels you! The power of, oh, fuck it, you just can't help yourself, can you?

                  • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Monday June 26 2017, @09:46AM (2 children)

                    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 26 2017, @09:46AM (#531226) Journal

                    I respond once more, just to see how goofy your own response can be. You won't let a sleeping dog lie, why should I? Kick that bitch again!

                    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 27 2017, @06:52AM (1 child)

                      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 27 2017, @06:52AM (#531800)

                      Runaway, this is God. Your comments account for 23.76% of the comments on SoylentNews. In terms of actual information and insight, your comments account for .08%. Do you see a slight discrepancy here? As God, I would appreciate it if you brought these two numbers closer together. You, personally, are throwing off the harmony of creation. Thank you. --Your God

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26 2017, @03:42AM (3 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26 2017, @03:42AM (#531091)

          Why did god take multiple days to create the earth and a single day to create the rest of the cosmos? Was he slacking off?

          • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Monday June 26 2017, @04:01AM (2 children)

            by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Monday June 26 2017, @04:01AM (#531099) Journal

            The story of creation, as narrated in the Bible, is only concerned with the earth.

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26 2017, @07:23AM (1 child)

              by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26 2017, @07:23AM (#531170)

              God made two great lights--the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.

              Oh?

              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26 2017, @07:26AM

                by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 26 2017, @07:26AM (#531174)

                PS: The "original" bible text was copy/pasted from the Enuma Elish and saw generations of gods turned into days of work.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday June 25 2017, @12:41PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday June 25 2017, @12:41PM (#530859) Journal

      Seems a little silly to fly a fragile craft through a water plume, anyway.

      I imagine they'll start by making the craft less fragile.

      How do you predict how much water will erupt from the geyser, or how high you should fly, to prevent being knocked out?

      Put it in orbit, then you can do multiple passes until the eventual knockout happens. The real problem is that if there is life, you have a potential avenue for Earth-based contamination since the craft is destined to be bits and pieces on the surface of Enceladus. That plus the precautionary principle means someone will always be eternally opposed to such a mission.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Sunday June 25 2017, @01:45PM

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Sunday June 25 2017, @01:45PM (#530869) Journal

      Seems a little silly to fly a fragile craft through a water plume, anyway.

      It has already been done. At Enceladus, even!

      https://www.space.com/30944-nasa-cassini-saturn-moon-enceladus-flyby.html [space.com]
      https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/teach/activity/teachable-moment-flying-by-saturns-moon-enceladus/ [nasa.gov]

      How do you predict how much water will erupt from the geyser, or how high you should fly, to prevent being knocked out?

      From this recent article, we know there is some variance in plume sizes, but even if the plume is double the height, it's not like spraying a high powered hose at the spacecraft:

      Hydrogen Emitted by Enceladus, More Evidence of Plumes at Europa [soylentnews.org]

      The problem is not flying a spacecraft through a plume, the problem is having the right conditions and sensors on the spacecraft to detect biological material. Maybe even do a little DNA sequencing on-board.

      It's unclear whether flying through plumes would be enough. You may have to drill into the ocean instead, which could be many $billions harder. But great for the thirsty astronauts of the future.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
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