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Saturn at Opposition II

May 19, 2015

Only a handful of worlds in the solar systems are considered to be realistic homes for life. Two of those are moons of Saturn: Enceladus and Titan.

Geysers of water and ice shoot into space from cracks around the south pole of Enceladus. The geysers appear to come from an ocean of liquid water that’s far below the moon’s icy crust. The geysers also carry minerals that likely come from the bottom of that ocean. That gives Enceladus all the basic ingredients for life as we know it: water, a source of energy to keep it from freezing, and the right mineral content.

Titan is the largest of Saturn’s moons. It may have an even bigger ocean below the surface than Enceladus does, giving it the right ingredients for life as well.

Its surface is less hospitable. Titan has a cold atmosphere that’s rich in hydrocarbons, and lakes of liquid hydrocarbons. Those conditions aren’t especially friendly to life like that on Earth.

But it could be friendly to life that’s not as we know it.

Scientists at Cornell found that compounds in Titan’s atmosphere and lakes could form cell membranes similar to the water-based membranes that are important for life on Earth. That suggests that life might be possible on the surface of this amazing moon.

And Saturn itself is putting in an amazing appearance right now. It looks like a bright golden star in the southeast as night falls, and arcs across the south during the night.

More about Saturn tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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