Published: Sun, April 16, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Saturn's moon Enceladus could support life


Of course, life needs much more than just a source of energy: liquid water together with certain chemical compounds (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulphur) are also required.

After probing data from NASA spacecraft Cassini's flight through the watery plume of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, scientists from the Southwest Research Institute, Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Lab and Cornell confirm the presence of molecular hydrogen - a potential microbial food source and an ingredient necessary for life.

Zurbuchen added that the missions were getting humans closer to understanding whether they were "indeed alone or not".

In a major announcement on Thursday, scientists published research analyzing the ice plumes shooting into space from Saturn's moon Enceladus.

The unmanned Cassini spacecraft detected the hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy material emanating from hot cracks near the south pole of Enceladus during its last and deepest, dive through the plume on October 28, 2015. Combined with carbon dioxide, the hydrogen could provide the right conditions for life "as we know it", according to NASA.

"We now know that Enceladus has nearly all of the ingredients that you would need to support life as we know it on Earth", she said at a NASA news conference.

NASA on Thursday confirmed the discovery of hydrogen on Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, a circumstance that could mean there are living organisms there. "It would be like a candy store for microbes", stated Hunter Waite, lead Cassini researcher. Additionally, the Hubble researchers reported the "evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa".

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However, the scientists think that because the moon is young, there may not have been time for life to emerge. Other ocean worlds in our solar system potentially include Jupiter's moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto; Saturn's moons Enceladus, Mimas and Titan; Neptune's moon Triton; and the dwarf planet Pluto.

Still, Glein issued a word of caution, noting that there is yet no actual evidence of the chemical reactions taking place under Enceladus' icy shell.

On Earth, such hydrothermal vents support thriving communities of life in complete isolation from sunlight.

The hydrogen in the sub-surface ocean could combine with carbon dioxide molecules in a process known as "methanogenesis", which creates a byproduct of methane. The chemical analysis suggests the seafloor of the ocean has hot fluid vents that keep the ocean liquid, warm, and hospitable to life. The team suggests that this phenomenon is a chemical effect of interactions between the rocky core and warm water from the underground ocean of the moon. It took another 10 years, in 2014, for the orbiter to start reporting in some rather interesting findings coming from Saturn's moon, Enceladus. "We're finding new environments", said James Green, NASA s Planetary Science Division Director.

Today's news comes as Nasa is eager to secure funds for its planned Europa Clipper mission to the Jupiter moon.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is to thank for the revelation.

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