Cassini finds ingredient for life at Saturn's moon Enceladus

Posted April 20, 2017

The findings, described in the journal Science, break ground in showing that an icy world beyond our own might truly have the right environment for Earth-like life. Both plumes were found above a region of unusual warmth and cracks in Europa's crust spotted by the Galileo probe in the 1990s. The presence of ample hydrogen in the ocean means that microbes at the bottom of the food web - if any exist - could use hydrogen to obtain energy by combining it with carbon dioxide dissolved in the water.

On Thursday, NASA announced Saturn's moon Enceladus was found to have giant plumes containing hydrogen molecules that could be a potential source for microbial life.

Alien life could exist within our solar system as NASA reveals Saturn's moon Enceladus has all of the ingredients for life after discovery of hydrogen gas, the Daily Mail reported a short while ago.

Our solar system is home to a number of known or suspected ocean worlds (vaguely defined as a planet or moon with a substantial portion of its surface covered by water).

On Earth, certain microbes living in the dark, high-pressure depths of the ocean where oxygen is scarce actually consume hydrogen and carbon dioxide, producing methane in the process.

During Cassini's close flyby of Enceladus on October 28, 2015, INMS detected molecular hydrogen as the spacecraft flew through the plume of gas and ice grains spewing from cracks on the surface. Cassini then sampled the plume's composition, and the scientists have determined that almost 98% of the gas in the plume is water, about 1% is hydrogen, and the rest is a mixture of other molecules including carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia.

Plume's composition:Cassini also sampled the plume's composition during flybys earlier in the mission.

On Earth, where we find water, we find life, so that's where we like to look for life in space, too.

"This [molecular hydrogen] is just like the icing on the cake", said Hunter Waite of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, who was study lead on the Encephalus plume observation. They found that there is a plume coming from the moon's surface in an area that had shown plumes in the past, NASA specialists speculated that this may mean the same thing is happening on Europa as is happening on Enceladus. The spacecraft will have ice penetrating radar and thermal imaging to detect what is going on beneath the surface. These organisms could be the foundation of a larger ecosystem in Saturn's moon.

In a press release for the briefing, NASA noted that the new results will affect the space agency's multi-billion-dollar Europa Clipper mission.