Is There Life on Saturn?

by Fraser Cain on July 3, 2008

Color view of Enceladus. Image credit: NASA/JPL/SSI
It’s hard to imagine a planet less hospitable for life than Saturn. The planet is comprised almost entirely hydrogen and helium, with only trace amounts of water ice in its lower cloud deck. Temperatures at the top of the clouds can dip down to -150 C.

You can also check out these cool telescopes that will help you see the beauty of planet Saturn.

Temperatures do get warmer as you descend into Saturn’s atmosphere, but the pressures increase too. When temperatures are warm enough to have liquid water, the pressure of the atmosphere is the same as several kilometers beneath the ocean on Earth.

To find life, scientists will want to take a good look at Saturn’s moons. They’re comprised of significant amounts of water ice, and their gravitational interaction with Saturn probably keeps their interiors warm. Saturn’s moon Enceladus is known to have geysers of water erupting from its southern pole. It’s possible that it has vast reserves of superheated water beneath an ice crust.

And Saturn’s moon Titan has lakes and seas of hydrocarbons, thought to be the precursors of life. In fact, scientists think that Titan is very similar in composition to the Earth’s early history.

Hydrocarbons have even been detected across the surface of Saturn’s moon Hyperion.

There might not be life on Saturn, but there are enough intriguing locations to explore around the ringed planet to keep astronomers busy for years.

Here’s an article about exotic life that could live on Titan, and another that dismisses the possibility that there’s life on Enceladus.

This is an article from the Guardian about the possibility of life on Enceladus, and hydrocarbons on Hyperion.

We have recorded two episodes of Astronomy Cast just about Saturn. The first is Episode 59: Saturn, and the second is Episode 61: Saturn’s Moons.

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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