Are Planets with Oceans Common in the Galaxy? It’s Likely, NASA Scientists Find

This illustration shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flying through plumes on Enceladus in October 2015. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

by Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, Md. (NASA PR) — Several years ago, planetary scientist Lynnae Quick began to wonder whether any of the more than 4,000 known exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, might resemble some of the watery moons around Jupiter and Saturn.

Though some of these moons don’t have atmospheres and are covered in ice, they are still among the top targets in NASA’s search for life beyond Earth. Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa, which scientists classify as “ocean worlds,” are good examples.

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Proposed NASA Mission Would Visit Neptune’s Curious Moon Triton

This global color mosaic of Neptune’s moon Triton was taken in 1989 by Voyager 2 during its flyby of the Neptune system. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech NASA/JPL/USGS)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — When NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Neptune’s strange moon Triton three decades ago, it wrote a planetary science cliffhanger.

Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft ever to have flown past Neptune, and it left a lot of unanswered questions. The views were as stunning as they were puzzling, revealing massive, dark plumes of icy material spraying out from Triton‘s surface. But how? Images showed that the icy landscape was young and had been resurfaced over and over with fresh material. But what material, and from where?

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NIAC Award: Exploring the Vents of Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

Graphic depiction of the Enceladus Vent Explorer: Phase II concept. (Credits: Masahiro Ono)

NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC)
Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Enceladus Vent Explorer

Masahiro Ono
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Enceladus Vent Explorer (EVE) is a robotic mission to enter an Enceladus. Her mission objective is to collect samples of ocean water that could contain intact organisms (i.e., cells) to

i) draw an unambiguous conclusion on the existence of life in the ocean of Enceladus and

ii) should a positive result be obtained, characterize the life and ecosystem of Enceladus through biochemical, taxonomic, ethological, and ecological studies.

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Billionaire Milner Eyes Private Missions to Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Hydrothermal activity in Enceladus’ core and the rise of organic-rich bubbles. (Credit: ESA; F. Postberg et al — 2018)

Billionaire Yuri Milner, founder of Breakthrough Initiatives, is eying a private missions to search for life elsewhere in the Solar System, Space.com reports.

Breakthrough Initiatives, which already scans the heavens for possible signals from faraway alien civilizations, is considering looking for E.T. on worlds close to home, founder Yuri Milner said.

“We are thinking very seriously about solar system-based initiatives,” Milner said here Sunday (Nov. 4) at the seventh annual Breakthrough Prize ceremony at NASA’s Ames Research Center. “We’re thinking, within our foundation, is there something we can do, privately funded, which will supplement the government-funded projects?

{…]

So, where might this putative Breakthrough mission go? Milner cited as possibilities Jupiter’s moon Europa and the Saturn satellite Enceladus, both of which have oceans of liquid water beneath their icy shells, as well as Venus.

Venus may seem like an odd choice, given that its surface is bone-dry and hot enough to melt lead. But conditions in the clouds, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) up, are much more life-friendly, Milner noted.











Listen: Eerie Sound of Electromagnetic Energy Moving Between Saturn & Enceladus

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — New research from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft’s up-close Grand Finale orbits shows a surprisingly powerful and dynamic interaction of plasma waves moving from Saturn to its rings and its moon Enceladus. The observations show for the first time that the waves travel on magnetic field lines connecting Saturn directly to Enceladus. The field lines are like an electrical circuit between the two bodies, with energy flowing back and forth.

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Complex Organics Bubble From Depths of Ocean World Enceladus

Enceladus jets and shadows. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Data from the international Cassini spacecraft have revealed complex organic molecules originating from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, strengthening the idea that this ocean-world hosts conditions suitable for life.

Very little was known about Enceladus prior to 2005 – the year when Cassini first flew close. Since then, it has become a continuous source of surprises, with secrets still being revealed even now, after the mission end.

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NASA Dives Deep into the Search for Life

Artist rendering showing an interior cross-section of the crust of Enceladus, which shows how hydrothermal activity may be causing the plumes of water at the moon’s surface. (Credits: NASA-GSFC/SVS, NASA/JPL-Caltech/Southwest Research Institute)

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (NASA PR) — Off the coast of Hawaii’s Big Island and more than 3,000 feet beneath the ocean surface lie the warm, bubbling springs of a volcano — a deep-sea location that may hold lessons for the search for extraterrestrial life.

Here, NASA and its partners are blending ocean and space exploration, with a project called SUBSEA, short for Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog. Lessons learned in both fields will be mutually beneficial and could help design future science-focused missions across the solar system.

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NASA Invests in Concept Development for Missions to Comet, Saturn Moon Titan

CAESAR (Comet Astrobiology Exploration SAmple Return) spacecraft. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has selected two finalist concepts for a robotic mission planned to launch in the mid-2020s: a comet sample return mission and a drone-like rotorcraft that would explore potential landing sites on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

The agency announced the concepts Wednesday, following an extensive and competitive peer review process. The concepts were chosen from 12 proposals submitted in April under a New Frontiers program announcement of opportunity.

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NASA Receives 12 Proposals for Solar System Exploration Missions


WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has received and is reviewing 12 proposals for future unmanned solar system exploration. The proposed missions of discovery – submitted under NASA’s New Frontiers program – will undergo scientific and technical review over the next seven months. The goal is to select a mission for flight in about two years, with launch in the mid-2020s.

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NASA Finds Ingredients for Life at Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

Video Caption: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft discovered hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy particles spraying from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The discovery means the small, icy moon — which has a global ocean under its surface — has a source of chemical energy that could be useful for microbes, if any exist there. The finding also provides further evidence that warm, mineral-laden water is pouring into the ocean from vents in the seafloor. On Earth, such hydrothermal vents support thriving communities of life in complete isolation from sunlight. Enceladus now appears likely to have all three of the ingredients scientists think life needs: liquid water, a source of energy (like sunlight or chemical energy), and the right chemical ingredients (like carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen).

Cassini is not able to detect life, and has found no evidence that Enceladus is inhabited. But if life is there, that means life is probably common throughout the cosmos; if life has not evolved there, it would suggest life is probably more complicated or unlikely than we have thought. Either way the implications are profound. Future missions to this icy moon may shed light on its habitability.

White smoker footage courtesy of: NOAA-OER / C.German (WHOI)











Oh the Places You Will Go….

Interplanetary Transport System at Jupiter. (Credit: SpaceX)
Interplanetary Transport System at Jupiter. (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk wants to take SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System well beyond Mars, which will keep animators employed until some distant time when he can actually do so.

Int3erplanetary Transport System at Saturn. (Credit: SpaceX)
Interplanetary Transport System at Saturn. (Credit: SpaceX)

Interplanetary Transport System at Europa. (Credit: SpaceX)
Interplanetary Transport System at Europa. (Credit: SpaceX)

Interplanetary Transport System at Enceladus. (Credit: SpaceX)
Interplanetary Transport System at Enceladus. (Credit: SpaceX)

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NIAC Focus: Journey to the Center of Icy Moons

niac_center_icy_moons_ono
Exploration of an icy moon. (Credit: NASA JPL)

NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently selected 13 proposals for Phase I awards. Below is one from Masahiro Ono of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Journey to the Center of Icy Moons

Masahiro Ono
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

In Jules Verne’s classic science fiction, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Professor Otto Lidenbrock and his company descend into an Icelandic volcano to explore it in the name of science, discover a vast subterranean ocean among other unexpected wonders, and must resiliently survive the experience to complete their mission. This is exactly what we want to do in reality on Europa and Enceladus.

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NASA Year in Review

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2015, NASA explored the expanse of our solar system and beyond, and the complex processes of our home planet, while also advancing the technologies for our journey to Mars, and new aviation systems as the agency reached new milestones aboard the International Space Station.

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