Enceladus Up Close, with Carolyn Porco – StarTalk All-Stars

Shown: Artist’s rendering showing a cutaway view into the interior of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, updated to more accurately represent scientists' current understanding of the thickness of the layers. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

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About This Episode

Is Saturn’s moon Enceladus the most likely place in our solar system to harbor life, or are Titan’s methane seas or the subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa better candidates? Dive in with StarTalk All-Stars host and planetary scientist Carolyn Porco and her guest astrobiologist Chris McKay from the NASA Ames Research Center. Together, Carolyn and Chris have been lobbying for 11 years to get people excited about Enceladus. You’ll discover what the Cassini mission has learned about the moon, from the salty global ocean trapped under 35km of ice, to the unexpectedly enormous geysers spewing organic matter into space, most of which floats back to the frozen surface as snow. The pair also answer Cosmic Queries chosen by co-host Chuck Nice about the search for extraterrestrial life, intelligent or microbial, both in our solar system and on the billions of earthlike exoplanets right here in our own galaxy. Find out what the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere of an exoplanet could tell us about life on that planet, and how the chirality, or molecular “handedness” of complex amino acids, can be an indicator of biological selectivity. You’ll also hear what an amazing job the Cassini spacecraft has done, what the next mission to Enceladus would look for – and why there might not even be a next mission to the Saturn system.

In This Episode


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  • Host

    Carolyn Porco

    Carolyn Porco
    All-Stars Host, Planetary Scientist, Cassini Imaging Science Team Leader

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  • Co-Host

    Chuck Nice

    Chuck Nice
    Comedian

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  • Guest

    Chris McKay

    Chris McKay
    Astrobiologist, NASA Ames Research Center

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Episode Topics

  • Kent Linkletter

    In this session you fielded a question from Kabir Mahotra (my guess at what you pronounced) where he was asking about how long it would take for an infinite universe to produce an exact copy of Earth. I think it would be more correct to speculate on how far away you would have to look for an exact copy. I know that this sounds ridiculous, but scientists do seriously consider that the universe may be truly infinite and that in such a universe, there may be infinite numbers of areas as large as our observable universe and that there will be an infinite number of exact duplicates. This is considered to be one form of Multiverse. This is described at http://www.space.com/18811-multiple-universes-5-theories.html. Or you can read about Max Tegmark’s speculation on the multiverse as written up in this article, http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/PDF/multiverse_sciam.pdf.

  • Adam Pierce

    “We should be doing all of this”

    Great example of how you fail to acknowledge trade-offs and priorities when you’re spending other people’s money

  • Jonathan

    Great job, Chris and Carolyn.

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