NASA finds conditions for life on Saturn's moon

NASA finds conditions for life on Saturn's moon

"That hydrogen is coming from a hydrothermal vent on the sea floor of Enceladus going out into space through the plume", said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Life requires three main ingredients: liquid water, source of energy and the right chemical ingredients.

They described their findings in the journal Science. The agency also reports that the world has numerous "ingredients needed for a habitable environment".

On its deepest dive through the spray that shoots up from Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, NASA's Cassini spacecraft picked up signs of molecular hydrogen and carbon dioxide - two ingredients that feed many microbes living around hydrothermal vents on Earth. The presence of ample hydrogen in the ocean of Enceladus implies that microbes, if they do exist on Saturn's moon, could use it to gain energy by combining it with carbon dioxide dissolved in water. Such a chemical reaction produces methane as a byproduct, and forms the root of Earth's own tree of life.

"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.


United States space agency NASA published the findings obtained by the Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope, indicating that conditions in which life may develop have been discovered on Saturn's moon Enceladus. Hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen have been found on the planet, and are part of the core chemical makeup necessary for life.

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. Scientists determined the gas in the plume almost 98 percent water, about 1 percent of which is hydrogen, with the rest being a mixture of carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia. Like Enceladus, both plumes correspond to the location of an unusually warm region that is marked by features that could be cracks in the moon's icy crust.

How Did The Cassini Spacecraft Detect Hydrogen?

"We haven't discovered evidence of microorganisms on Enceladus, but I'm encouraged by chemical data that could allow for this possibility", Chris Glein, one of the authors of the new Science paper, announced at the NASA press conference. This moon of Saturn likely has a global subsurface ocean. "We're finding new environments", said NASA's Planetary Science Division director, James Green. The future Europa Clipper mission, expected to launch in the 2020's, will head to Europa to gather more information.

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