Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus is emerging as the most habitable spot beyond Earth in the Solar System for life as we know it.
“It has liquid water, organic carbon, nitrogen [in the form of ammonia], and an energy source,” says Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Besides Earth, he says, “there is no other environment in the Solar System where we can make all those claims.”
NASA is planning to send probes to Enceladus to search for life.
The fastest way to get a mission there is via a gravity boost from Jupiter, which would cut the journey time from ten years to as little as seven.
The next Jupiter-assist window hits its peak in 2015-17, and then slams shut until the 2030s.