A Russian billionaire plans to scour one of the solar system’s mysterious moons for alien life and he could end up getting there faster than NASA, the New Scientist reports.
Yuri Milner, who founded the $100 million 'Breakthrough Starshot' project, has set his sights on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which scientists have designated one of the prime spots in the known universe where life could exist.
Research by NASA so far shows that the Moon has something resembling an ocean thanks to a geyser that sprays a plume of molecular hydrogen into space—a sign that Enceladus could have hydrothermal vents and thus be habitable for some species. Such vents attract clusters of micro-organisms on Earth and could do so elsewhere.
“Can we design a low-cost, privately funded mission to Enceladus which can be launched relatively soon, and that can look more thoroughly at those plumes, try to see what’s going on there?” Milner asked the New Space Age conference in Seattle this month.
Milner and his colleagues “formed a sort of little workshop around this idea,” the Inverse website reports, citing the billionaire who estimated that efforts by NASA to do the same could take up to 10 years to realize. Milner’s current idea revolves around potentially sending a cheaper probe that will collect observations to build on current data about the moon.
Thanks to NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which orbited Saturn for over a decade until September, scientists discovered the burst of hydrogen and determined that it is created by multiple geysers that sit atop a potentially habitable ocean of salty liquid water, moving beneath the icy shell of Enceladus.
NASA is strongly considering the idea of exploring the moon further as two of the 12 candidates currently considered for its billion dollar New Frontiers project, are Enceladus-focused, Space.com reports. The agency will announce the selected mission in 2019 and launch will not take place until some point in the 2020s.
Cassini ended its final transmission and crashed onto Saturn’s surface in September after orbiting the ringed planet and its moons for 13 years.
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