While the Hollywood film industry fantasizes about life beyond Earth, NASA just proved it may not be just a fantasy for long on Enceladus.
Enceladus, Saturn’s moon, was found to contain hydrogen after a 12 year investigation by Cassini spacecraft. Hydrogen is one of the main elements needed to support life. The elements also include carbon, oxygen, phosphorus, nitrogen, and sulfur. All of these elements undoubtedly exist on Enceladus, with the exception of two: phosphorus and sulfur. However, scientists are confident that they are also present on Enceladus because of its rocky core.
In addition, underneath its icy surface, Enceladus contains liquid salt water that offers signs of hydrothermal activity. Hydrothermal activity is what organisms here on Earth rely on thousands of meters below sea level. Down there, with no sunlight, hydrothermal activity gives them the proper energy to thrive. The recent discoveries surrounding Enceladus are fascinating, but one can only wonder what kind of data future generations will find.
The possibility for new life seems enticing, but there are those who wonder whether the amount of money, resources, and quite frankly the brain power that goes into NASA’s discovery is all worth it. The billions of dollars could go into schools, healthcare, libraries, national parks, and much, much more. While fiscal conservatives believe the budget set aside for research is all a waste, it turns out there is a true meaning. If we can discover whether life is sustainable elsewhere, we’ll have a better understanding of how to conserve the environment here on Earth, as well as some options for how to combat pollution and climate change on our home planet. Even if Enceladus does not provide the answer right now, future discoveries will. Even with all of NASA’s efforts and money going into seemingly unrelated discoveries, the truth is that discovery of new life can help our lives too.