Why the Warm Ocean on This Moon of Saturn Could Be Perfect for Life

William Herkewitz, for Popular Mechanics:

Astrophysicists working with NASA’s Saturn sweeping Cassini spacecraft have just announced that Enceladus has a warm ocean at its southern pole with ongoing hydrothermal activity—the first ever discovered outside of Earth. This new research, published in the journal Nature, builds upon last year’s discovery of the moon’s 6-mile-deep ocean, which is also believed to contain many of the chemicals commonly associated with life.

“We now have very strong evidence that there is a hot hydrothermal environment at the base of Enceladus’s ocean, perhaps like those where we believe life began on Earth,” says Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University who works with the Cassini spacecraft but was not involved in the new research. “This is yet another discovery in a series of really remarkable findings that have come one by one, to tell us that this may be the place to go look for life in the outer solar system.”

My fingers remain tightly crossed. The real question is when we’ll be able to examine Enceladus more closely. Cassini has provided us with a first glance, but this moon needs to be bumped up a few notches on the exploration queue.