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March 11, 2008

The most exciting place in the solar system!

Posted: 10:35 AM ET

Where is it, you might ask??? Some astronomers say Mars, others claim it's Jupiter's moon Europa, and still others tout Titan, one of Saturn's satellites. 

Cassini Image

But recently a new candidate has entered the field: Saturn's moon Enceladus. That's pronounced "in-SELL-uh-duss." Two years ago the Cassini spacecraft, which is currently studying Saturn and its moons, flew by Enceladus and captured images and data showing Yellowstone-like geysers containing water erupting from the south pole. That, in turn, suggested pockets of liquid water, maybe even an ocean, may be lurking very near the surface. And, as any good astrobiology buff will tell you, wet places in the solar system will be the best places to look for extra-terrestrial microbial life. While there was no smoking gun, it sure got a lot of scientists' attention. And Enceladus shot to the top of the list of places we might want to know a lot more about.

On Wednesday, Cassini will make its closest flyby ever of Enceladus, flying just 30 miles above the moon's surface, eventually passing directly over that south polar plume. It is one a series of Enceladus flybys that Cassini will execute this year, and it will be the closest yet to any object in the Saturn system.

Instruments aboard the spacecraft will be able to determine what sort of other chemicals are in the geyser spray...which should help planetary scientists better figure out what's going on with this intriguing moon.

–Kate Tobin, Senior Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Astrobiology • Space

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Jason   March 11th, 2008 12:39 pm ET

What makes Enceladus exciting isn't just that you have liquid water there. It is that you have the possibility of liquid water (keep in mind that the source of the plumes, liquid water, sublimation off warm ice or ice clathrates, is still being debated), organic compounds, and an energy source all in one area. Those are the three basic ingredients for life.

As far as Most Exciting Place in the Solar System, you forgot Io! Just because it likely isn't infested with microbes doesn't make it some how boring. And the fact that astrobiologists are excited about a particular world, doesn't confer some special status to it.

Richard   March 11th, 2008 1:18 pm ET

It's fascinating how over the last few years we have come to realize how the moons of Jupiter and Saturn are just as interesting, if not more so, than the planets themselves. A decade or two ago everyone thought only planets could be interesting – moons would just be (relatively) boring like our own Moon.

Cassini has been an outstanding probe – I hope it lasts for a long time to come.

I still can't make my mind up which planet/moon is the most exciting place in the Solar System... I agree with Jason that Io is definitely a candidate too. 🙂


Dutch84   March 11th, 2008 2:16 pm ET

I didn't know astrobiology was a profession.

Karsten   March 11th, 2008 7:27 pm ET

The most exciting place in the solar system? Here on Earth!

And we know for sure there is life, although whether it is "intelligent" can be debated.

Anyway...where will the Encaladus "fly-by" pictures be posted?

Mark   March 11th, 2008 7:51 pm ET

Sorry, Earth is still the most exciting place in the solar system. And look at all the life it has too...amazing.

kmcgra   March 11th, 2008 10:36 pm ET

I will be looking forward to seeing the imagery from this flyby. It seems that recently, planetary moons have been more interesting places to look at than the planets.

Imagine the diversity we have in our one solar system, yet there are still billions more stars out there with probably just as much diversity. The universe is truly amazing!

Wolf's Coming!   March 12th, 2008 3:19 am ET

I wonder how the fishing is?

SciTechBlog: Blog Archive - Geyser Flyby Update « - Blogs from   March 12th, 2008 11:49 am ET

[...] Geyser Flyby Update Posted: 11:48 AM ET Today's the day for the Enceladus flyby – see "The most exciting place in the solar system!" post below. Source: NASA/JPL/Space Science [...]

NASA probe flying through the icy geysers of Saturn’s moon Enceladus « exploring our world   March 12th, 2008 4:19 pm ET

[...] Check out this great post by Kate Tobin on CNN's Sci-Tech blog. | This new interactive from NASA is a great resource for Enceladus – the intro video at the good is excellent. | Also, NASA has just released a site that lets you fly along with Cassini as it explores Saturn and its moons. It's pretty cool in my opinion. [...]

Emmanuel   March 19th, 2008 8:26 am ET

I do agree earth is still the most interesting place in the solar system , but we could do a better job at taking car of it.

Mr. Spock   March 23rd, 2008 11:52 pm ET

I think Venus is the most exciting place. 900 Degrees, pressure greater than our deepest ocean, poisonous atmosphere. Venus is challenging us not to explore it. But if we keep trying and advance our technologies, we may be able to one day send a manned or robotic mission to Venus' surface. Surely someday we ought to be able to design a heat and pressure resistant suit or vessel to withstand the hostile environment of Earth's sister, Venus. And ESA, please send us more pictures from Venus Express, we'd like to see them.

Faber01   December 22nd, 2010 7:20 am ET

For me Titan is the most exciting place in the solar system, the only body apart from Earth to have liquid flowing on its surface and an atmosphere more similar in composition to Earth's than any other planet or moon in our system, a primordial Earth in deep freeze.

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