Saturn’s Moon ‘Enceladus’ Can Host Alien Life — NASA Announcement
Scientists have found a promising sign.
Scientists believe life could exist on Saturn’s moon Enceladus around hydrothermal vents which are similar to those found at the bottom of the Earth’s ocean.
“This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment”, said NASA administrator Thomas Zurbuchen.
What might life there look like, should it exist? 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.
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If true, it would be analogous to ancient organisms on Earth fueled by the energy in deep-sea ocean vents.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has detected hydrogen in a plume of gas and icy particles spraying from Saturn’s moon Enceladus, prompting the question could it be a suitable energy source for microbes to exist in its sub-surface oceans.
Scientists said when the flares light up, they can affect our Global Positioning System and other communication devices.
From these observations scientists were able to find that almost 98 percent of the gas in the plume is water, about 1 percent is hydrogen and the remaining is a mixture of other molecules including carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia. Scientists have long known about the plumes of water vapor spewing from cracks at the moon’s south pole, thanks to Cassini.
The consequent chemical reaction known as methanogenesis, which creates methane as a byproduct, is “at the root of the tree of life” on our planet and could have been crucial to the origin of life on Earth.
“Now, Enceladus is high on the list in the solar system for showing habitable conditions”, said Hunter Waite, one of the study’s leading researchers.
So what exactly could be lurking under the surface?
“And then possibly eventually impacting one of the moons”, says Dr. Conor Nixon, of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. We have this buildup of food that’s not being used.
Jeffrey Seewald of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution echoed those comments in a companion article to the study: “This observation has fundamental implications for the possibility of life on Enceladus”.
They found that plumed were bursting or were erupting from Europa, which is a moon of Jupiter.
Cassini’s findings reveal that the ice-covered Enceladus has pretty much all the elements required to support life forms. And there’s “no reason” why the same process wouldn’t be happening on the moon orbiting Jupiter, Voytek says. “My money for the moment is still on Europa”, she says. The Europa Clipper mission is set to launch to Europa in the 2020s. Cassini also sampled the plume’s composition during flybys earlier in the mission.
After that ends, it’s not clear when another spacecraft will head to Saturn’s moon.