Earth is the ultimate test bed for alien life, and NASA says that’s precisely why it must remain on the hunt for extraterrestrial life.
“But now here on Earth in a modern, open, transparent and data-driven environment, NASA is going to be better able to recruit and launch the next generation of scientific discovery,” said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Scientists at the Enceladus Polychromatic Panchromatic Imaging Spectrograph, or Eppie for short, will provide an insight into the geology and composition of Saturn’s moon and identify potential life-bearing biomarkers, according to a release from NASA. Scientists aboard the Cassini mission discovered a plume of hydrothermal activity on Enceladus and are trying to identify whether the ocean at the south pole is habitable or not.
Eppie measures the blue-green color of the atmosphere of the moon to determine the chemistry of the sunlit side. Each sub-model, or scene, of Eppie will be watched carefully to reveal the areas of the moon where life could be created.
“We now have the ability to monitor the moon’s geology in the ultraviolet and infrared (UV-IR) spectra,” said Cheryl Manders, Eppie lead on Cassini. “This allows us to see distinctive scales of Earth-like and inorganic layers: seas and river basins, oceans, plate tectonics, the chasm interspersed with hydrothermal activity, geysers that shoot water out at the moon’s south pole.”
Eppie’s high definition resolution also creates panoramic images of all 45 previously photographed locations and gives scientists a new chance to see where evidence of life may be. For the first time on Earth, these active subsurface ocean areas are being mapped directly and physically by a spacecraft.
Scientists at NASA said these could be the very first clues that aliens use to introduce life to Earth.
“To find complex organic molecules, the air has to be relatively oxygen-rich and hydrothermal activity is needed,” said Tiago Brandão, Cassini on Enceladus research assistant. “Knowing the conditions on Saturn’s moon will be helpful for predicting the environment on other alien worlds. It’s not like Enceladus is the only place in the solar system that has potentially habitable conditions. But it’s a very good place to start to provide a comparison to determine if habitable environments have developed elsewhere.”
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