News FocusPlanetary Science

Enceladus Now Looks Wet, So It May Be ALIVE!

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Science  10 Jun 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6035, pp. 1259
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6035.1259

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Liquid water—and the life it may permit—has been the goal of planetary exploration for decades, with not much of the sloshy stuff to show for the effort. Jupiter's moon Europa has a global ocean, but unfortunately, it's out of reach beneath many kilometers of ice. So the sight in 2005 of ice and water vapor jetting hundreds of kilometers above Saturn's icy little moon Enceladus, like Yellowstone geysers gone ballistic, warmed the hearts of astrobiologists everywhere. But as terrestrial geologists soon pointed out, water plumes needn't mean liquid water. Enceladus might be frozen solid and still be spouting water ice and vapor. With new observations, the "Enceladus: Oasis or Iceball?" debate is now coming down on the side of a wet interior for the moon—and a chance for life.