September 5, 2016 1:54 pm

Enceladus or Europa? That’s just one of the questions Carolyn Porco tackles Tuesday

NASA images of Jupiter's moon, Europa, on the left, and Saturn's moon, Enceladus, on the right.

Left: Jupiter’s moon, Europa; Right: Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. Credit: NASA.

Enceladus or Europa?

In the best of all worlds, that wouldn’t be a question. We’d explore both, along with Titan, and Venus, and Mars, and Alpha Centauri, and comets, and so much more.

But budgets and appropriations being what they are, we have to make choices.

And when it comes to the question of where the most promising environment is to search for life in the solar system, for evidence of pre-biotic chemistry, tomorrow night’s All-Stars host, planetary scientist Carolyn Porco and her guest, astrobiologist Chris McKay of the NASA Ames Research Center, are in complete agreement: it’s Enceladus.

They’ve been championing Saturn’s moon for over a decade, certainly since the Cassini mission first discovered geysering at the south pole of Enceladus, which eventually led to the discovery of a global, sub-surface salt water ocean 35km below the moon’s icy crust.

And, life needs liquid. (Even, possibly, liquid methane, like the methane seas on Saturn’s moon, Titan.) And life, as we know it, needs liquid water.

What if we do find life on Enceladus? What if we also find life on Europa? And what if the life on each is similar? Or different?

These are some of the most intriguing questions facing today’s explorers – and they’re some of the Cosmic Queries from our fans that co-host Chuck Nice asks our scientists on Tuesday’s show.

Along with questions about how we might recognize life on exoplanets, how we can design experiments that test for extraterrestrial life here in our solar system, and what are the dangers about bringing samples of that life back, should we find it.

You’ll even hear about some assumptions concerning Enceladus and Titan that, when we actually got close enough to investigate, turned out to be incorrect.

As Chris says, the only way to know is to go. Or,  as Carolyn puts it, “Kipling…said ‘Travel is mind-expanding;’ well, planetary exploration is mind-blowing!”

Join us Tuesday, September 6th at 7pm EDT, on iTunes Podcasts, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, Stitcher, TuneIn, and right here on our website.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons

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