Ocean spray from Saturn moon, Enceladus

Asked to name an organization searching for life, the average person might respond "SETI," which has looked for signs of technological civilizations in our galaxy since 1985. But closer to home, the Cassini robotic mission to Saturn has returned a trove of data, some of which hints at the possbility of simple life in our solar back yard.

Until 2005 science had no idea that the Saturn moon Enceladaus sported ice geysers near its southern pole. On daring dives through the plumes, the spacecraft in 2008 and 2009 collected samples that confirmed the presence of organics and water ice. Subsequent analysis now suggests that the source of those geysers is a salty ocean, according to Physorg.com.

Nature puts the find in a larger context:

'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'.

Wayne