TOKYO - A recent series of discoveries suggests there may be more Earth-like planets out there than has long been believed. Will the new clues eventually lead to proof of extraterrestrial life? Scientists certainly think so, with NASA boldly claiming it will be able to obtain evidence within a decade.
In an article published in British science journal Nature in March, scientists from Japan, the US and Europe said data from the Cassini space probe indicated that the oceans of one of Saturn's moons might be home to hydrothermal activity.
Launched by NASA and the European Space Agency in 1997, the explorer gathered information on Enceladus, a moon just 500km in diameter. Hydrothermal activity, a natural phenomenon on Earth, occurs when seawater infiltrates and reacts with a rocky crust and emerges as a heated, mineral-laden solution.
What Cassini found was that the water on Enceladus and the steam coming off the surface contained superfine particles of silicon dioxide, a chemical compound rarely found in space but common on Earth. Researchers at the University of Tokyo and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and other institutions examined these particles and found that they were the products of the interaction of water heated to over 90 C and rock.
Yasuhito Sekine, an associate professor of planetary science at the University of Tokyo, said that based on those findings, beneath Enceladus' thick crust of ice likely lies an ocean over 10,000 times bigger than Lake Biwa, Japan's largest freshwater lake.
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