If you’ve been paying attention to the scientific search for extraterrestrial life you’ll already know that in recent months the frosty Saturn moon Enceladus is looking mighty tempting. The ice-covered ocean world has a steamy hot center and plenty of life-giving water hidden beneath its thick layer of ice, and researchers have determined that if alien life does exist here in our own Solar System, Enceladus is probably our best bet at finding it. Now, a fabulously wealthy Russian plans to beat NASA to the punch and launch a mission to explore Enceladus.
The man, Yuri Milner, is no stranger to space exploration, having already dropped a cool $100 million on plans to launch probes towards Alpha Centauri, but figuring out exactly what is hidden beneath the icy crust of Enceladus is a whole other matter. He recently announced his plans, which focus on examining the massive geysers which spew water from deep cracks on the moon’s souther pole, while noting that he believes he can do it well before NASA gets around to it.
Milner, who has said that he thinks waiting for a space agency to make its move could take a decade or longer, wants to send a low-cost probe to Enceladus in the hopes of detecting something in the water being shot skyward from the frigid moon. Determining the makeup of the water — which, as has been theorized, might be a lot like the oceans here on Earth — would go a huge way towards explaining what the conditions are like closer to the moon’s steamy center.
At present, NASA has two potential missions on the table that would also focus on Enceladus, but funding is scarce, and the missions are competing against 10 others for a slice of the pie. If NASA ever does send hardware to the icy moon, it’ll be a long while before that happens. Milner hopes that his proposed mission could act as something of a supplementary effort to build up data about Enceladus before the space agency eventually gets around to checking it out.
It’s obviously impossible to predict whether or not Milner’s would-be mission would actually result in evidence that alien life is present on the frozen moon, and the specifics of what his probe would be capable of detecting are slim, but Enceladus is most certainly worth checking out, so let’s hope for the best.