In the quest to find life elsewhere in the universe, scientists look for certain elements. In regards to the exoplanets discovered by the Kepler space telescope, they go by its distance from the zone – a not-too-hot-not-too-cold orbital location known as the “Goldilocks Zone”. This is primarily important in determining what form any potential water on the planet would take. Too close, and the water is vapor. Too far, and it’s ice. Liquid water is one of the best indicators that possibly extraterrestrial life exists.

Along with a renewed public interest in sending a manned mission to Mars, attention has also been drawn towards the moons of the Gas Giants further in our Solar System. Just today NASA announced that under its surface, Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede, holds an ocean of liquid water. Believe it or not, however, that’s only the second most exciting Astronomical revelation of the week.

It’s been long known that Saturn’s moon Enceladus contains liquid water under it’s icy surface. Images of geysers erupting from the surface have proven this. While it has been speculated that it’s possible life could exist in these waters, the presumed low temperatures of them made it highly unlikely.

Geyers erupting on Enceladus. Photo courtesy of NASA.
Geyers erupting on Enceladus. Photo courtesy of NASA.

All that’s been thrown out the window. Based on the discovery of microscopic grains on the planet’s surface, scientists have determined that hot water is flowing on the moon. Here, we’ll let The Verge explain exactly what that means:

“The existence of these grains can only mean that there is an active hydrothermal system working on Enceladus, according to the authors of the paper. Here’s how the process starts: The gravitational tug of Saturn helps heat the ocean below Enceladus’s surface to at least 90 degrees Celsius, or about 200 degrees Fahrenheit. That helps dissolve minerals from the moon’s rocky core. That water cools on its way towards the surface, and those minerals get trapped in larger grains of ice as they push through vents and out into space. There, the ice erodes, and the tiny silicon-rich grains are left bare, where the scientists were able to detect them with Cassini’s dust analyzer.”

This news, coupled with the ongoing efforts to research the underground waters of Jupiter’s moon Europa and we could be well on our way to discovering lifeforms outside of our planet. Even if that life is merely microbiotic in nature, it could change the way we see, as humans, see a lot of things – including life itself.

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