SAN FRANCISCO — Scientists are developing a mission concept that would snag icy particles from Saturn's moon Enceladus and return them to Earth, where they could be analyzed for signs of life.
The spacecraft would fly through the icy plume blasted into space by geysers near Enceladus' south pole, then send the collected particles back to our planet in a return capsule. Enceladus may be capable of supporting life, and the flyby sample-return mission would bring pieces from its depths to Earth at a reasonable price, researchers said.
"This is really the low-hanging fruit" of sample-return missions, said study leader Peter Tsou of Sample Exploration Systems in La Canada, Calif., who presented the idea here Wednesday (Dec. 5) at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. "It would be a shame not to pick it."