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Could a Dedicated Mission to Enceladus Detect Microbial Life There?

Accepted submission by Phoenix666 at 2017-06-22 14:15:24

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

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 [].

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