NASA’s leading candidates for extraterrestrial life are now Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus or perhaps Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede. Scientists are weighing the possibilities in anticipation of picking a destination for a $4 billion space mission set for around 2020.
According to the BBC, the potential Saturn mission would follow up the remarkable discoveries made by the Nasa/Esa Cassini-Huygens mission which continues to operate at the ringed planet. Cassini has sent back data that indicates Titan is akin to a primitive ~ albeit frozen ~ Earth. It has a thick atmosphere and is rich in organic (carbon-rich) molecules.
But Nature News says the arguments for exploring Jupiter’s moons are just as compelling. In 1995, the Galileo probe began an 8-year tour of Jupiter’s system, during which it snapped the first close-ups of Europa’s scarred surface. Analysis of a magnetic anomaly soon revealed the moon’s most astonishing feature: that eggshell of ice is thought to enclose a warm, salty ocean. Scientists immediately clamoured to return.
Click here for the Discover magazine article.