Saturn's Moon Enceladus Could Have Conditions for Life

Posted April 19, 2017

That is the question NASA scientists are asking after an fantastic discovery on Enceladus, a moon of the planet Saturn.

"We now know that Enceladus has nearly all of the ingredients you would need for life here on Earth", Spilker added.

The energy can be obtained from the combination of hydrogen and carbon dioxide dissolved in water.

The paper by researchers with the Cassini mission, published Thursday in Science magazine, says that the hydrogen gas - which could potentially provide a source of chemical energy for the existence of life - is found in Enceladus' frozen ocean. This instrument was created to examine the upper atmosphere of Titan, another of Saturn's 62 known moons. Earth has some of these on its sea floors, where hydrogen combined with carbon dioxide produces methane in a process called "methanogenesis", which is theorized to be a core component for microbial life on our planet. By flying through a plume spraying out of its icy shell, Cassini was able to detect molecular hydrogen. However, the moon of Saturn has "almost all of the ingredients that you need to support life as we know it on Earth", said NASA scientist Linda Spilker.

"Life as we know it requires three primary ingredients: liquid water; a source of energy for metabolism; and the right chemical ingredients, primarily carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur".

On its last deep dive past the moon in October 2015, the spacecraft measured the chemical composition of one of the vapour plumes using its Mass Spectrometer (INMS) instrument - which sniffs gases to determine their make-up.

'This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment, ' said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington.

NASA researchers have just announced that they've found possible life-sustaining conditions on two lunar bodies within our solar system. "It would be like a candy store for microbes", said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study, according to NASA. This new finding is therefore an independent line of evidence supporting the theory of hydrothermal activity taking place in the ocean of Enceladus.

In a separate study, NASA scientists working with the Hubble telescope have revealed that they've found more evidence that another of Jupiter's moons, Europa, is spurting out watery jets of its own, giving us yet another potential spot where life might develop.

Voytek said her money is still on Europa for potential life, versus Enceladus, since Europa is much older and any potential life there has had more time to emerge.