NASA’s mantra for finding alien life has long been to “follow the water,” the one ingredient essential to our own biochemistry. On Wednesday, NASA will sample the most available water out there, when the Cassini spacecraft dives through an icy spray erupting from the little Saturnian moon Enceladus.
…in 2005, shortly after starting an 11-year sojourn at Saturn, Cassini recorded jets of water squirting from cracks known as tiger stripes near the south pole of Enceladus — evidence, scientists say, of an underground ocean kept warm and liquid by tidal flexing of the little moon as it is stretched and squeezed by Saturn.
And with that, Enceladus leapfrogged to the top of astrobiologists’ list of promising places to look for life. If there is life in its ocean, alien microbes could be riding those geysers out into space where a passing spacecraft could grab them. No need to drill through miles of ice or dig up rocks.
As Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Laboratory, said, it’s as if nature had hung up a sign at Enceladus saying “Free Samples.”
It is sad the American public is not more excited about this, but kudos to the NYT for making it a feature story.