MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

In today's news from Saturn, a NASA spacecraft is flying through some geysers on one of the planet's moons. As NPR's David Kestenbaum reports, this is seen as one of the few places in the solar system that might be capable of supporting life.

DAVID KESTENBAUM: The moon is named Enceladus, after some mythical giant. But this moon is no giant. You could drive from one pole to the other in about 7 hours, that's if there were a road, which there isn't, and if it weren't 300 degrees below zero, which it is.

Ms. LINDA STOKER (Lead Scientist, NASA Cassini Spacecraft): So it is really cold. It's so cold that the water I saw on the surface was really like a rock. That's

KESTENBAUM: That's Linda Stoker, a lead scientist for NASA's Cassini spacecraft. And until a few years ago, Enceladus looked spectacularly uninteresting. Then, on one flyby, Cassini detected geysers near the moon's South Pole. Geysers spewing ice particles, which meant there was somehow some underground heat source. Who knows maybe there's an underground ocean. That's why today, scientists have set the craft on a course to skim the surface, at closest approach, just 30 miles up.

Ms. STOKER: If you could be riding on Cassini, it would be a lot like flying through a giant fireworks show, and the South Polar geysers will be shooting like fountains would on the Fourth of July.

KESTENBAUM: Stoker says they will taste and smell this stuff coming out of the geysers. Another instrument may be able to pick out an underground ocean if there is one. So is it really possible there's life on this moon?

Ms. STOKER: Oh, that's such a tantalizing question. You know, you sort of figure if there's liquid water and you've got some of the other building blocks, you wonder about the possibility of life. And I guess the big question is, is the source of the geysers really a liquid water reservoir underneath the geysers? And that's something we'd like to explore and understand a bit better.

KESTENBAUM: The geysers have solved one mystery. It's now thought that one of Saturn's rings that stretches all the way around the planet is actually composed of debris, sent into space from the geysers on this tiny moon.

David Kestenbaum, NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.