Carolyn Porco: Could a Saturn Moon Harbor Life

In this talk, courtesy of TED, Carolyn Porco shares exciting new findings from the Cassini spacecraft's recent sweep of one of Saturn's moons, Enceladus.

Samples gathered from the moon's icy geysers hint that an ocean under its surface could harbour life. Scientists were initially excited by the discovery of towering jets erupting from fractures at the south pole, consisting of tiny water ice crystals accompanied by water vapour and simple organic compounds like carbon dioxide and methane.

Since then the Cassini Spacecraft has flown closer and deeper into the denser regions of these jets to obtain some very precise compositional measurements. The data showed the organic compounds coming from this moon were more complex than previously reported and included chemicals like propane and benzene, hydrogen cyanide, and formaldehyde.

The tiny water crystals appeared to be frozen droplets of salty water, which is a discovery that suggests that not only do the jets come from pockets of liquid water, but that the liquid water is in contact with rock. The scientists think that these circumstances could supply the chemical energy and the chemical compounds needed to sustain life. Curriculum links include space, solar system, extraterrestrial life, universe. 

Show health and safety information

Please be aware that resources have been published on the website in the form that they were originally supplied. This means that procedures reflect general practice and standards applicable at the time resources were produced and cannot be assumed to be acceptable today. Website users are fully responsible for ensuring that any activity, including practical work, which they carry out is in accordance with current regulations related to health and safety and that an appropriate risk assessment has been carried out.

Published by


Share this resource