Enceladus as a potential oasis for life: Science goals and investigations for future explorations

Choblet, Gaël; Tobie, Gabriel; Buch, Arnaud; Čadek, Ondrej; Barge, Laura M.; Bēhounková, Marie; Camprubi, Eloi; Freissinet, Caroline; Hedman, Matt; Jones, Geraint; Lainey, Valery; Le Gall, Alice; Lucchetti, Alice; MacKenzie, Shannon; Mitri, Giuseppe; Neveu, Marc; Nimmo, Francis; Olsson-Francis, Karen; Panning, Mark; Postberg, Frank; Saur, Joachim; Schmidt, Jürgen; Sekine, Yasuhito; Shibuya, Takazo; Sotin, Christophe; Soucek, Ondrej; Szopa, Cyril; Usui, Tomohiro; Vance, Steven and Van Hoolst, Tim (2021). Enceladus as a potential oasis for life: Science goals and investigations for future explorations. Experimental Astronomy (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10686-021-09808-7

Abstract

Enceladus is the first planetary object for which direct sampling of a subsurface water reservoir, likely habitable, has been performed. Over a decade of flybys and seven flythroughs of its watery plume, the Cassini spacecraft determined that Enceladus possesses all the ingredients for life. The existence of active eruptions blasting fresh water into space, makes Enceladus the easiest target in the search for life elsewhere in the Solar System. Flying again through the plume with more advanced instruments, landing at the surface near active sources and collecting a sample for return to Earth are the natural next steps for assessing whether life emerges in this active world. Characterizing this habitable world also requires detailed mapping and monitoring of its tidally-induced activity, from the orbit as well as from the surface using complementary platforms. Such ambitious goals may be achieved in the future in the framework of ESA large or medium-class missions in partnership with other international agencies, in the same spirit of the successful Cassini-Huygens mission. For all these reasons, exploring habitable ocean worlds, with Enceladus as a primary target, should be a priority topic of the ESA Voyage 2050 programme.

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