Tech & Science

Alien Life May Thrive on Saturn's Moon Enceladus, Where Christmas Is Always White

12_19_saturn
The giant-ringed planet could be home to extraterrestrial life. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI via Getty Images

As we cross our fingers in hopes of a white Christmas, nearly a billion miles across the galaxy, it's a good time to take a look back at Enceladus, the sixth largest moon of Saturn, where snow is simply a given. Here, the moon’s surface is always covered with fresh snow and freezing ice. But that doesn’t mean it still can’t support life. This year brought the compelling discovery from NASA that the moon may have an ecology that can support life. 

NASA astronomers aren't the only experts with their eyes on Enceladus. A team of researchers at Warwick University in England are looking closely at Saturn’s snowy moons for signs of life. Ongoing research from David Brown and his team at Warwick's Center for Exoplanets and Habitability suggests that these cold worlds of winter could have just the right conditions to support life.

Related: Aliens on Enceladus: Chances of E.T Living In Subsurface Ocean Of Saturn's Icy Moon Given Major Boost

NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn, an unmanned space probe, first passed by Enceladus in February 2005. Data from the flyby revealed that the moon emits gas. Eventually, more trips by Cassini to Enceladus showed that the moon also has a salty ocean under the entire lunar surface, covered by an icy crust and possibly even hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, NASA reported. A plume coming from beneath the moon's icy exterior contains methane, an indication that this snowy globe could support life

"Any life that might exist in these environments would almost certainly be microbial," Brown told Newsweek in an email. 

Brown and his team believe that there may be large amounts of water underneath the icy surface of Enceladus that could possibly support alien life, according to a statement.

Related: NASA Is Building Its Most Advanced Machine Ever To Hunt For Live On Saturn's Icy Moon Enceladus

This ice could potentially protect life forms from the dangerous radiation of space that our atmosphere protects us from. Life would be even more likely if there are hydrothermal vents in the moon's icy oceans. On Earth, these vents emit hot fluids filled with minerals necessary to support life in the otherwise barren, deep cold ocean floor. A chemical reaction between seawater and magma beneath the Earth's surface allows life there to thrive, according to the National Ocean Service.

“Living in a never-ending landscape of snow and ice all year might not seem particularly inviting, even for Santa!,” said Brown in a statement. “But these moons represent some of the best chances for life beyond Earth in the solar system, and are environments that we're very interested in exploring.”

Even if life doesn’t exist on Enceladus, studying this bizarre and unique moon can help researchers understand what extraterrestrial life would be like, no matter where in the galaxy, or even universe, it may exist.

"The next step is going to be the JUICE space mission, which will explore Jupiter’s moons," Brown told Newsweek. "The hope is that this will give us many new insights into those bodies, much like Cassini did with Saturn’s moons."

No word on whether the NORAD Santa Tracker plans to include Enceladus this year. 

Editor's Pick