his afternoon, NASA is going to make an announcement about big findings from the Cassini spacecraft, a probe that’s been exploring the Saturn system since 2004. This particular announcement will revolve around “new results about ocean worlds” in our Solar System, so that means we’ll be most likely be focusing on either Titan or Enceladus. The two moons of Saturn are thought to harbor liquid water. Enceladus has a subsurface ocean and this saltwater periodically erupts from the moon’s surface as plumes. Titan’s surface, in comparison, is dotted by lakes and seas of liquid methane and ethane.
Now a man who is said to be a former Nasa employee has published an unverified spoiler ahead of tomorrow’s event.Keith Cowing, an analyst who writes for Astrobiology, claimed Nasa scientists had spotted hydrothermal vents on the seabed of an ice-covered ocean.
If true, this would be a momentous discovery because some scientists believe life on Earth began near similar vents in our own oceans.
“The process is indicative of possible habitable zones within the ocean of Enceladus,” Cowing wrote.
However, he offered the following caveat: “Before we go any further, ‘habitable’ does not mean ‘inhabited’.”
The Cassini probe has been speeding through “plumes” which gush into space from Enceladus and collecting samples from them.
Cowing claimed Cassini had found evidence suggesting a natural process was going on around these vents which is creating methane from carbon dioxide.
Deep in the oceans of Earth, tiny lifeforms perform a similar process.
“There are forms of life on Earth that use hydrogen to produce methane from and carbon dioxide in a process known as methanogenesis,” Cowing added.
“As such, if similar conditions exist on Enceladus, the issue of habitability arises. But again, this could just be chemistry that happens without any living processes involved.”
Ironically, these new findings from Cassini come at a time when the spacecraft is about to meet its end. After 13 years at Saturn, the vehicle is about to start its grand finale — the last few orbits Cassini will make around the planet. On April 22nd, the spacecraft will fly close by Titan and put itself into a tight path between Saturn and its rings. Cassini will eventually complete 22 of these orbits and then nosedive into Saturn itself, where it will burn up and break apart. But there’s plenty more to learn from Cassini before that happens, including today’s results. A panel of experts will discuss the latest findings at the James Webb Auditorium at NASA’s Washington, DC headquarters. NASA says the news will help us figure out how to explore ocean worlds in the future, including other tantalizing moons like Europa. Check back here at 2PM ET to watch the announcement live.