“the final ingredient, liquid water..”

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich may have an exhibition of images from the Cassini-Huygens mission, but Cassini itself is continuing to observe in and around Saturn. The discovery of sodium salts in the water-ice jets of Enceladus is being interpreted as evidence of a reservoir of liquid water beneath its surface.

“Our measurements imply that besides table salt, the grains also contain carbonates like soda. Both components are in concentrations that match the predicted composition of an Enceladus ocean,” Postberg said. “The carbonates also provide a slightly alkaline pH value. If the liquid source is an ocean, it could provide a suitable environment on Enceladus for the formation of life precursors when coupled with the heat measured near the moon’s south pole and the organic compounds found within the plumes.”

And here’s the associated Jet Propulsion Laboratory video. Adds BBC report. And Some of the older links don’t work due to a redesign of the Cassini [JPL] website. Here’s a key press release from March 2008.

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  • loki

    Pete, I just love your threads on NASA and things astronomical. Unfortunately I’m a complete moron when it comes to the crunch and only understand bits of it. Keep up the good work-you’re improving my education slowly

  • Pete Baker

    Trying my best, loki. ;o)

    Here’s something more from the BBC report.

    “We need three ingredients for life, as far as we know – liquid water, energy and the basic chemical building blocks – and we seem to have all three at Enceladus, including some fairly complex organic molecules,” commented John Spencer, a Cassini scientist from the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado.

    “That’s not to say there is life on Enceladus but certainly the ‘feedstock’ is there for life to use if it does exist,” he told BBC News.

  • loki

    Thanks for that.Off to suss out the BBC now

  • Greenflag

    Pete ,

    Thanks for another round in the ever ongoing SETI minus the last I of course 😉

    As I understand it -for life as we know it on earth to exist , hydrogen , oxygen , nitrogen and carbon are prequisites . But it’s the carbon that allows complex organic molecules to bind together. On the pre Cambrian earth ( 600 million years ago) life was confined to the sea . And before that that life would have been archaic minute bacteriae and primitive oceanic algae .

    Any sign of Carbon on Enceladus?

    I recently read Ben Bovas book on the search for extra terrestrial life. The consensus seems to be that it’s no longer considered implausible that the major impetus to evolving life on earth from the underearth bacterial forms to the complex life forms of the Cambrian period, was delivered by ‘water and life rich ‘ complex carbon molecules ‘ from space, splashing into earth’s primeval seas . Carl Sagan’s we are all star stuff once again .

    As for ‘intelligent ‘ life beyond Earth ? It’s now generally accepted that our much vaunted ‘human ‘ intelligence is just a local survival adaptation which fulfills the same function in mankind that white fur does for polar bears or a speedy set of legs for a cheetah.

    Becoming a tool and fire user helped early man to survive against much stronger , faster and bigger mammals . That initial detour into ‘intelligence ‘ lane just kept on feeding itself until now it’s a multi lane cable network encompassing the entire planet .

    I’ll not be planning a fishing trip to Enceladus just yet 😉

  • Pete Baker


    Some of the older links no longer work due a redesign of the Cassini [JPL] website.

    Here’s the press release on finding organic chemicals in those jets.

    Organic chemicals are, by definition, carbon-based.

    And from that press release, quoted earlier,

    “Enceladus has got warmth, water and organic chemicals, some of the essential building blocks needed for life,” said Dennis Matson, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “We have quite a recipe for life on our hands, but we have yet to find the final ingredient, liquid water, but Enceladus is only whetting our appetites for more.”

    Now they think they’ve got evidence of liquid water.

    All those building blocks, the conditions required for life, could very well be there.

    That’s significant by itself.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    this is a bit far out and I’m awfully bored tonight LOL, but what’s the chance of this happening?

    Humans are actually planet hoppers and all planets are capable of containing life though they’re all in different life enabling stages, but Humans just don’t possess the knowledge and technology at this stage to turn the chosen planet into a life supporting planet.

    Humans may have previously lived on Venus before the ever expanding Sun turned it into a flaming ball. Earth seemed to have the ingredients to sustain life so humans moved. Maybe a sophisticated ‘bomb’ or series of ‘bombs’ are needed to kick-start the next planet into life sustaining mode.

    [Question that may be asked] – How did Humans suppress the knowledge and technology when they arrived on Earth?

    Ans: God kept it to himself, LOL

  • Pete Baker

    Btw, Greenflag,

    We are star-stuff is a reference to the formation of the heavier elements, which we are composed of, having been created within stars.

  • joeCanuck

    Wonder if there is any possibility of intelligent life up there unlike on earth?

  • Ulsters my homeland

    are you talking to me Joe? Want to join my new cult? LOL

  • Greenflag


    Thanks for the clarification re carbon -so it’s looking good for the seekers . I’m aware of the heavier element formation in super novas etc which eventually found it’s way to earth – most probably to the internal caverns within UMH’s cranial structure 😉

    UMH ,

    The Sun did not expand to turn Venus into a flaming ball . But it will expand in about 6 billion years to beyond the orbit of Jupiter thus ‘cinderizing ‘ every planet in it’s path including the earth . So the only hope for the longevity of the species is to escape the Earth . Some of us manage I’m afraid to achieve that already without even leaving the ground -i.e in a manner of speaking .

    How can anyone be bored at the prospect of finding ‘life’ in another part of the solar system . Mind you I’m not so sure that the discovery of life elsewhere beyond the earth will have the ‘traumatising’ effect it might once have had on those people who still believe that the planet is only 6,000 years old and that Eve was created by God because Adam was way too happy in the Garden of Eden all by hisself 😉

  • Ulsters my homeland

    If its going to expand in the future how can you tell it never expanded in the past?

  • Turgon

    Probably a stupid question but why does liquid water exist there when it is presumably so cold? Is it volcanic activity?

  • Pete Baker


    Short answer, yes. But it’s, more accurately, probably due to a partially molten core caused by a combination of radioactivity and Saturn’s gravitational influence on a comparatively silicate and iron-rich Enceladus.

  • Astronomically challenged metalhead

    Another excellent post Pete! Now, which courageous journo is going to ask Edwin Poots his opinion on carbonates on Enceladus and the implications for scientific evaluation of global climatic changes here on earth…or his thoughts on the panspermia theory?

  • Astronomically challenged metalhead

    Crap – used theory there rather than hypothesis…forgot that the fundies confuse the two: a simple slip of the keyboard almost opened a new tangent on the thread!

  • Greenflag

    ‘If its going to expand in the future how can you tell it never expanded in the past? ‘

    I did’nt say it did’nt expand in the past just that solar expansion was not the cause of Venus being a cloud covered planet with a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead . That has more to do with Venus not being too close to the Sun . If the Earth was another 3% closer to the Sun we too would be heading for Venus status -whereas 3% further away and we’d probably have a ‘snowball’ earth . Global warming and CO2 emissions may introduce us to Venusian like conditions before the species 4 million years life expectancy is reached .

    Read up on the life history of Stars .

    Whereas on the Stock Market past performance is no guarantee of future results as many have discovered – scientists on the other hand are in no doubt of Sol’s future performance not that any of us will be around to see it !

    Astro challenged M head ,

    ‘which courageous journo is going to ask Edwin Poots his opinion on carbonates on Enceladus ‘

    Poots answer is already foretold in the Book of Revelations .

    And the Lord God knew that mankind would in the end times send space probes to Enceladus and thus he created organic molecules on that moon the more to confuse the unbelievers in his divine mission and to encourage all those who believe in his power and majesty forever and ever etc – And now brethen please pass around the basket for the Lord’s offerings and my next mortgage payment etc etc 🙁

  • greenflag

    error- not not

    ‘ That has more to do with Venus not being too close to the Sun ‘

    should be ,

    That has more to do with Venus being too close to the Sun .

  • Ulsters my homeland

    Greenflag, you say Venus’s conditions have more to do with Venus being too close to the sun. That’s fine if you can prove the sun was the same size and produced the same heat since its creation. When the sun was formed along with all the planets did it suddenly explode to its current size and eminente the same amount of heat it does now? or does it increase in size and generated more heat as it ages?