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Space Oceans And Looking For Life

Oceans in Space. The new discovery on a moon of Saturn, and the possibility of life there.

This undated photo provided by NASA on April 2, 2014 shows Saturn's moon Enceladus. The "tiger stripes" are long fractures from which water vapor jets are emitted. Scientists have uncovered a vast ocean beneath the icy surface of the moon, they announced Thursday, April 3, 2014. Italian and American researchers made the discovery using Cassini, a NASA-European spacecraft still exploring Saturn and its rings 17 years after its launch from Cape Canaveral. (AP)

This undated photo provided by NASA on April 2, 2014 shows Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The “tiger stripes” are long fractures from which water vapor jets are emitted. Scientists have uncovered a vast ocean beneath the icy surface of the moon, they announced Thursday, April 3, 2014. Italian and American researchers made the discovery using Cassini, a NASA-European spacecraft still exploring Saturn and its rings 17 years after its launch from Cape Canaveral. (AP)

All kinds of excitement over potential life in space in the last week.  Light years away – maybe, but beguilingly – on a planet that looks amazingly like earth.  Squint and you can picture Earth-like oceans and land out there.  And much closer to home, on a moon in the rings of Saturn.  Icy and cold on the outside.  But inside, evidence of an underground ocean in space.  Sending geysers to the surface.  Lighting up astro-biologists’ fondest dreams.  Maybe teeming with life.  This hour On Point:  the buzz over life in space, maybe on an Earth-twin way out there, maybe on a moon close to home.  And the push to learn more.

— Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Carolyn Porco, leader of the imaging science team on the Cassini mission. Director of CICLOPS, the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations, at the Space Science Institute. (@CarolynPorco)

Chris McKay, senior scientist at the Space Science and Astrobiology Division at the NASA Ames Research Center.

Carl Murray, professor of mathematics and astronomy at the Queen Mary University of London.

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post: Cassini spacecraft finds sign of subsurface sea on Saturn’s moon Enceladus — “For years, the motto among astrobiologists — people who look for life in distant worlds, and try to understand what life is, exactly — has been ‘follow the water.’ You have to start the search somewhere, and scientists have started with liquid water because it’s the essential agent for all biochemistry on Earth. Now they’ve followed the water to a small, icy moon orbiting Saturn. Scientists reported Thursday that Enceladus, a shiny world about 300 miles in diameter, has a subsurface ‘regional sea’ with a rocky bottom.”

The Globe and Mail: Water detected on Saturn’s geyser moon raises hopes of finding alien life — “Scientists working with NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have found the strongest evidence yet for an extensive liquid-water ocean beneath the frozen surface of Enceladus, a small, icy moon of Saturn. The moon is believed to have a rocky core, so the ocean would sit atop that core, centred under the south pole.”

National Geographic: Saturn’s Largest Moon Would Host Really, Really Weird Life — “Ask an astrobiologist about the prospect of finding life on Titan, and they’ll say the shrouded, orange moon is the place to go if you’re looking for bizarre life. Life that’s not at all like what we know on Earth. Life that, instead of being water-based, uses those slick, liquid hydrocarbons as a solvent. Life that, if we find it, would demonstrate a second genesis—a second origin—and be suggestive of the ease with which life can populate the cosmos.”

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