It is not by chance that a lot of science fiction—especially reflected in the entertainment industry—is centred on aliens and extraterrestrial life. A significant part of real life space research’s efforts has focussed on finding life outside Earth, as also on finding habitable conditions for humans on planets/satellites other than our own. Mankind’s quest for Earth-like has led to unmanned probes and observatories striking paydirt or a close approximation within and outside our solar system—more so over the last decade with serious private deployment of capital in the hunt for potential colonies in space. Mars, Europa (on of Jupiter’s moons), etc, have all excited and disappointed to various degrees. On Thursday, scientists put another name on that list of probables, Encedalus, a moon of the ringed giant, Saturn. The satellite was earlier found to contain massive volumes of subterranean water, comparable to Earth’s oceans. As per the findings of a research published in Science, this ocean is producing molecular hydrogen, and the most plausible source of this is hydrothermal reactions between hot rocks in the ocean bed and the water. Thus, some of the ingredients that go into creation and sustenance of life—water, organic molecules and specific minerals—are perhaps already present on Encedalus. With an accessible source of energy, there is a reasonable chance that it could support microbial life—hydrothermal processes at volcani vents in the ocean floor are known to be a habitat for complex ecosystems on our planet.
The discovery is certainly exciting, but the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. So, till a physical probe establishes what we are surmising from a great distance, here on Earth, Encedalus and the other candidates remain mere potentials. Till then, with the interest in Mars yet to peak, we may yet call the Red Planet Home 2.0.