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  • Two years ago here at TED

  • I reported that we had discovered

  • at Saturn, with the Cassini Spacecraft,

  • an anomalously warm and geologically active region

  • at the southern tip of the small Saturnine moon

  • Enceladus, seen here.

  • This region seen here for the first time

  • in the Cassini image taken in 2005. This is the south polar region,

  • with the famous tiger-stripe fractures crossing the south pole.

  • And seen just recently in late 2008,

  • here is that region again,

  • now half in darkness because the southern hemisphere

  • is experiencing the onset of August

  • and eventually winter.

  • And I also reported that we'd made this mind-blowing discovery --

  • this once-in-a-lifetime discovery

  • of towering jets

  • erupting from those fractures at the south pole,

  • consisting of tiny water ice crystals

  • accompanied by water vapor

  • and simple organic compounds like carbon dioxide and methane.

  • And at that time two years ago

  • I mentioned that we were speculating

  • that these jets might in fact be geysers,

  • and erupting from pockets

  • or chambers of liquid water underneath the surface,

  • but we weren't really sure.

  • However, the implications of those results --

  • of a possible environment within this moon

  • that could support prebiotic chemistry,

  • and perhaps life itself --

  • were so exciting that, in the intervening two years,

  • we have focused more on Enceladus.

  • We've flown the Cassini Spacecraft

  • by this moon now several times,

  • flying closer and deeper into these jets,

  • into the denser regions of these jets,

  • so that now we have come away with some

  • very precise compositional measurements.

  • And we have found

  • that the organic compounds coming from this moon

  • are in fact more complex than we previously reported.

  • While they're not amino acids,

  • we're now finding things like

  • propane and benzene,

  • hydrogen cyanide, and formaldehyde.

  • And the tiny water crystals here

  • now look for all the world

  • like they are frozen droplets of salty water,

  • which is a discovery that suggests

  • that not only do the jets come from

  • pockets of liquid water,

  • but that that liquid water is in contact with rock.

  • And that is a circumstance

  • that could supply the chemical energy

  • and the chemical compounds needed to sustain life.

  • So we are very encouraged by these results.

  • And we are much more confident now than we were two years ago

  • that we might indeed

  • have on this moon, under the south pole,

  • an environment or a zone that is hospitable to living organisms.

  • Whether or not there are living organisms there, of course,

  • is an entirely different matter.

  • And that will have to await the arrival,

  • back at Enceladus,

  • of the spacecrafts, hopefully some time in the near future,

  • specifically equipped to address that particular question.

  • But in the meantime I invite you to imagine the day

  • when we might journey to the Saturnine system,

  • and visit the Enceladus interplanetary geyser park,

  • just because we can.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Two years ago here at TED

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【TED】Carolyn Porco: Could a Saturn moon harbor life? (Carolyn Porco: Could a Saturn moon harbor life?)

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    Zenn posted on 2018/01/22
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