The grueling process will involve of a decade of preparation, sending a probe on a journey which takes seven years in each direction, with several years of sample collecting in the middle. But after all of that, we may have proof of non-Earthly life from a place where all signs point to its existence. Via the Guardian:
Saturn’s tiny moon has suddenly become a major attraction for scientists. Many now believe it offers the best hope we have of discovering life on another world inside our solar system…and argue that Enceladus should be rated a top priority for future space missions.
The cause of this unexpected interest in Enceladus – first observed by William Herschel in 1789 and named after one of the children of the Earth goddess Gaia – stems from a discovery made by the robot spacecraft Cassini, which has been in orbit of Saturn for the past eight years. The $3bn probe has shown that the little moon not only has an atmosphere, but that geysers of water are erupting from its surface into space. Even more astonishing has been its most recent discovery, which has shown that these geysers contain complex organic compounds, including propane, ethane, and acetylene.
“It just about ticks every box you have when it comes to looking for life on another world,” says NASA astrobiologist Chris McKay. “It has got liquid water, organic material and a source of heat. It is hard to think of anything more enticing short of receiving a radio signal from aliens on Enceladus telling us to come and get them.”
McKay and a group of other NASA scientists based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena are …now finalising plans for an Enceladus Sample Return mission, which would involve putting a probe in orbit round Saturn.