Saturn's moon 'best option for life beyond Earth'

NASA and others are quick to point out this latest discovery does not mean there's life on Enceladus (ehn-SEHL'-uh-duhs), but that there may be conditions favorable for life.

The spacecraft Cassini has been in Saturn's orbit since 2004, and has paid special attention to the massive plumes of gases and ice that explode like geysers from Enceladus's south pole, out of geological features known as "tiger stripes". The presence of hydrogen gas is common around hydrothermal activity and can serve as a valuable source of food for microbial life-just as it does for many creatures that teem around Earth's hydrothermal vents.

Cassini also picked up water, traces of ammonia, carbon dioxide and methane in Enceladus' water plume. Cassini's nearly 20-year mission will soon come to a close as it is now planned to be destroyed by diving into the Saturn's atmosphere on September 15, 2017.

That's why she thinks it's actually more likely that they'll find life on Europa than Enceladus.

But he added: "I am encouraged by the geochemical data which could allow for this possibility". However, in a major breakthrough, two of NASA's veteran missions have found compelling evidence of life on one of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

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. When Cassini sampled the plume, it found it to be 98 percent water, with the remaining 2 percent consisting of elements like liquid hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane - and traces of organics.


Europa is potentially billions of years older than Enceladus, and life takes time to emerge. "It would be like a candy store for microbes", said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study, in the press release. But it could be the closest we've come yet, and it's definitely reason to celebrate if you're excited by the idea of extraterrestrial life. Cassini has found almost all of the ingredients for life on Enceladus: liquid water, a source of energy and the chemical elements - carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and sulfur - that we know contributed to the formation of life on Earth.

The moon is now thought to be one of the best potential locations of alien habitats within our solar system, the USA led team have said.

Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter also believed to have a subsurface ocean, may have water vapor jets spewing into space as well, similar to Enceladus.

In Jupiter, the newly imaged plume rises about 62 miles above Europa's surface, while the one observed in 2014 was estimated to be about 30 miles high.

"We re finding new environments", said James Green, NASA s Planetary Science Division Director. The Europa Clipper mission is set to launch to Europa in the 2020s.

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