Enceladus is the sixth largest moon of Saturn. Even though its small in size, the icy Enceladus has spurred a lot of interest. The conditions on Enceladus might be somewhat suitable for life, and colonising it might be possible in the future, though there are a lot of challenges to overcome before that.
The diameter of Enceladus is only about 500 kilometres, which is about 15 percent of the diameter of our Moon. The mass of Enceladus is only about 1/500 of the mass of the Moon. The gravity on surface of Enceladus is about 11 % of that experienced on the Earth.
Even though Enceladus is a small object, its gravity has been large enough to make it almost round-shaped. Enceladus most likely has a liquid core consisting of iron and silicates. On top of that, Enceladus has a mantle that is mostly water ice. Some parts of the mantle may be liquid, so there might be an underground ocean on Enceladus.
Orbit and rotation
Enceladus orbits Saturn relatively close, with the distance of the two objects being 240 000 kilometres on average. It takes about 33 hours for Enceladus to orbit around Saturn. Like many other moons, it is tidally locked with Saturn, so the same side faces the planet all the time.
Enceladus is geologically a very diverse object. Its surface features include features such as canyons, plains, craters and other interesting areas. Its surface consists mainly of ice, and it is one of the most light objects in the Solar System, reflecting much of the light back in to the space.
Enceladus has active ice volcanoes. These cryovolcanoes erupt mostly water with some other elements included. These ice volcanoes create new terrain to the moon, and also cause the moons thin atmosphere, that contains mostly water.
Enceladus has a weak atmosphere, that consists mostly of water vapour erected by ice volcanoes. There are also other elements in the atmosphere, such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. The atmosphere is so thin, that it does not have an effect for colonisation efforts.
Enceladus is a cold place, because of its distance from the Sun, and also because of its light surface. The light surface reflects most of the sunlight, which makes Enceladus even colder than other moons of Saturn. The lowest temperatures are about -240 °C, and on average they are around -200 °C. There is an area where the temperatures can rise as high as -120 °C because of cryovolcanism.
Traveling to Enceladus takes about the same time as travel to Saturn. With current technology, it takes at least two years, probably a bit more than that. A trip to Enceladus and back could be done in five years with current technology. When technology advances, the travel time will probably be shortened.
Habitats could be built on Enceladus on the very same way, as on other icy moons. Surface bases could be built first, that would serve as the first settlement. The base could be expanded underground, and at some point we might encounter the underground ocean of the moon. Temperatures at the ocean would be suitable for humans, so the base wouldn’t need extreme heating and insulation.
Because of the distance from the Sun, solar power is quite useless on Enceladus. If fusion reactors work some day, the fuel for them could be brought from Saturn. If we were to use fission power reactors, the fuel for them could be brought from the Earth or from some other object.
It takes some time for messages to reach Enceladus. A single message takes between one hour and one and a half hours to be delivered, depending on the position of Saturn and the Earth.
The exact composition of Enceladus is not well known, so its yet hard to say if there are a lot of valuable resources. There are, however, resources that support life, such as water. Enceladus could be used as a place to refine resources collected from Saturn. Enceladus has a relatively small gravity, so leaving it would be quite inexpensive.
Terraforming Enceladus won’t be possible for a long time, but it might be possible some day. Terraforming would require heating and creating a greenhouse effect. Heating could be done with mirrors and the planet could be also warmed by adding strong greenhouse gases. If we would be able to warm up the planet, it might be covered by a huge water ocean, so artificial continents would have to be built.
Enceladus is a small moon, which has all the necessary elements for life. When we are searching for life on the Universe, Enceladus is an interesting object. Even though there are necessary resources for life, it is not a place that would be easy to colonize, because of the cold temperatures and distance from the Earth. In the future, Enceladus might host a base where resources from the Saturn would be refined.