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Enceladus, encased in a thick ice shell and surrounded by a vast ocean, is a strong contender for potentially containing extraterrestrial life. Researchers have concluded that without even requiring a landing on this tiny world, a future mission could potentially offer answers.

University of Arizona researchers have found that the mystery surrounding the possibility of microbial extraterrestrial life on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s 83 moons, may be resolved by an orbiting space probe. The researchers have outlined a plan in a paper published in The Planetary Science Journal, explaining how a hypothetical space mission could provide conclusive answers.

Last year, a team of scientists at UArizona and Université Paris Sciences et Lettres in Paris calculated that if life could have emerged on Enceladus, there is a high likelihood that its presence could explain why the moon is burping up methane.

“To know if that is the case, we must go back to Enceladus and look,” said Régis Ferrière, senior author of the new paper and associate professor in the UArizona Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

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