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Enceladus Life Finder

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Title: Enceladus Life Finder  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Enceladus, Astrobiology, ELF, Chandra Wickramasinghe, Yamato 000593
Collection: Astrobiology, Discovery Program Proposals, Enceladus, Missions to Saturn, NASA Space Probes, Proposed Space Probes
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Enceladus Life Finder

Voyager 2 view of Enceladus in 1981: Samarkand Sulci vertical grooves (lower center); Ali Baba and Aladdin craters (upper left)

Enceladus Life Finder (ELF) is a proposed astrobiology mission concept for a NASA spaceprobe intended to assess the habitability of the internal aquatic ocean of Enceladus, which is Saturn's sixth-largest moon[1][2] and seemingly similar in chemical makeup to comets.[3] The spaceprobe would orbit Saturn and fly through Enceladus's geyser-like plumes multiple times. It would be powered by energy supplied from solar panels on the spacecraft.


  • Overview 1
    • Mission concept 1.1
    • Objectives 1.2
  • Proposed scientific payload 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4


Enceladus's south pole - Geysers spray water from many locations along the 'tiger stripes' feature.

The Enceladus Life Finder mission has been proposed in 2015 for Discovery Mission 13 funding.[2] If selected, a launch readiness date of December 31, 2021 may be possible.[4]

The ELF mission would search for

  1. ^ a b c d e f Lunine, J.I.; Waite, J.H.; Postberg, F.; Spilker, L. (2015). Enceladus Life Finder: The search for life in a habitable moon (PDF). 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (2015). Houston, Texas.: Lunar and Planetary Institute. 
  2. ^ a b c d Clark, Stephen (April 6, 2015). "Diverse destinations considered for new interplanetary probe". Space Flight Now. Retrieved April 7, 2015. 
  3. ^ Battersby, Stephen (March 26, 2008). "Saturn's moon Enceladus surprisingly comet-like".  
  4. ^ "NASA Discovery Program Draft Announcement of Opportunity". NASA Science Mission Directorate (SpaceRef). February 19, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Lunine, Jonathan. "Searching for Life in the Saturn System: Enceladus Life Finder" (PDF). ELF Team. Lunar And Planetary Institute. Retrieved 2015-04-07. 
  6. ^ Gronstal, Aaron (July 30, 2014). "Enceladus in 101 Geysers". NASA Astrobiology Institute. Retrieved April 8, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b Witze, Alexandra (March 11, 2015). "Hints of hot springs found on Saturnian moon". Nature News. Retrieved April 7, 2015. 
  8. ^ Ocean Within Enceladus May Harbor Hydrothermal Activity. March 11, 2015.
  9. ^ Platt, Jane; Bell, Brian (April 3, 2014). "NASA Space Assets Detect Ocean inside Saturn Moon".  
  10. ^ Iess, L.; Stevenson, D.J.; et al. (April 4, 2014). "The Gravity Field and Interior Structure of Enceladus".  
  11. ^ Amos, Jonathan (April 3, 2014). "Saturn's Enceladus moon hides 'great lake' of water". BBC News. Retrieved April 7, 2014. 
  12. ^ Anderson, Paul Scott (March 13, 2015). "Cassini Finds Evidence for Hydrothermal Activity on Saturn's Moon Enceladus". AmericaSpace. Retrieved April 7, 2015. 


See also

ELF's instruments would conduct three kinds of tests in order to minimize the ambiguity involved in life detection.[1][5] The first would look for a characteristic distribution of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). The second test would determine whether the carbon number distribution in fatty acids or isoprenoids is biased toward a particular rule (even, odd, or divisible by a small integer). The third would measure carbon and hydrogen isotopic ratios, together with the abundance of methane relative to other alkanes, to assess whether the values fall in the range for biological processes.[5]

The Cassini spacecraft has measured small silica particles, normally formed at 90 °C or higher, streaming from Enceladus.[7] The size and composition of the particles suggest that they come from current hydrothermal activity,[8][9][10][11] where the moon's ocean meets the underlying rock, a prime habitat for life.[7][12]

  • Mass Spectrometer for Planetary Exploration (MASPEX), optimized to analyze the gas expelled from the vents.
  • Enceladus Icy Jet Analyzer (ENIJA), optimized to analyze solid particles expelled from the vents.

The ELF spacecraft would use two mass spectrometers to assess habitability of the interior oceanic environment. The two proposed scientific instruments are:[1][5]

Artist's impression of possible hydrothermal activity on Enceladus.

Proposed scientific payload

  1. To measure abundances of a carefully selected set of neutral species, some of which were detected by Cassini, to ascertain whether the organics and volatiles coming from Enceladus have been thermally altered over time.
  2. To determine the details of the interior marine environment — pH, oxidation state, available chemical energy, and temperature — that permit characterization of the life-carrying capacity of the interior.
  3. To look for indications that organics are the result of biological processes through three independent types of chemical measurements that are widely recognized as diagnostic of life.

The goals of the mission are derived directly from the most recent decadal survey: first, to determine primordial sources of habitats in Enceladus where the conditions for life could exist today, and if life exists there now.[1] To achieve these goals, the ELF mission has three objectives:[1]


The Enceladus Life Finder (ELF) mission would pursue the implications of microbial life in it, ice particles from the sea could contain the evidence astrobiologists need to identify them.[6]

Composite map of Enceladus's south polar region showing cracks dubbed 'tiger stripes' where the geysers are located.

Mission concept

[5][1] does not have the equipment with the sensitivity required for direct analyses.Cassini However, [5] also detected sodium and potassium at a concentration implying a salty liquid ocean.Cassini [5] orbiter was flown through a plume and analyzed the material with its neutral Cassini In 2008, the


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