Sure, water ice and liquid water may have been confirmed on the surface of Mars. And microbial life has been resurrected from a million year old dirt nap on Earth. But given the distance from its parent star and the presence of an active hydrology of liquid methane and ethane, Titan might be the best place to find brand new kinds of life. Key question: Given our complete lack of understanding of such life, would we know it if we encountered it?
New research suggests that the ice volcanoes on Enceladus may "be rooted in an underground sea, a finding that raises the prospect for microbial life," according to MSNBC.
Enceladus image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
NASA: By measuring their rise and fall, Cassini has confirmed the presence of hydrocarbon lakes on Titan.
For several years, Cassini scientists have suspected that dark areas near the north and south poles of Saturn’s largest satellite might be liquid-filled lakes. An analysis published today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters of recent pictures of Titan's south polar region reveals new lake features not seen in images of the same region taken a year earlier. The presence of extensive cloud systems covering the area in the intervening year suggests that the new lakes could be the result of a large rainstorm and that some lakes may thus owe their presence, size and distribution across Titan’s surface to the moon’s weather and changing seasons.
An extreme closeup of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, taken by Cassini on October 9.
Like Jupiter's volcanic Io and Neptune's Triton, Enceladus is notable for its geological activity and the organic compounds spewing from vents at its southern pole, which in some pictures give the moon the appearance of a comet. On Oct. 9, Cassini flew into the vented plume to directly sample its composition.
A narrated video tour of the moon is here.