“Life may have everything it needs to exist on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.”
An anonymous reader shared this report from CNN:
Scientists have long viewed Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which has an ocean beneath its thick icy crust, as one of the best places to search for life outside Earth. Now, a new analysis of data collected by NASA’s Cassini mission, which orbited Saturn and its moons between 2004 and 2017, has revealed intriguing evidence supporting the idea of Enceladus as a habitable ocean world.
Enceladus first captured scientists’ attention in 2005 after observing plumes of ice grains and water vapor rising through cracks in the moon’s icy crust and shooting into space. The spacecraft flew through the plumes and took samples from them, with data indicating the presence of organic compounds within the plumes, some of which are essential for life. The latest analysis of data from Cassini’s flyby of Enceladus has revealed the discovery of a molecule called hydrogen cyanide, which is toxic to humans but important for the processes that give rise to life. Furthermore, the team also found evidence to support that Enceladus’s ocean contains organic compounds that provide a source of chemical energy that can be used as a powerful fuel for any form of life.
The combination of these elements together suggests that a process called methanogenesis, or metabolic methane creation, may be influencing Enceladus. Scientists suspect that methane generation may also have occurred on early Earth, contributing to the origin of life. But new research suggests there are more diverse and powerful chemical energy sources within Enceladus’ ocean… Now, the study’s authors want to investigate the extent to which organic compounds are diluted within the subsurface ocean because dilution of these compounds could determine whether or not Enceladus is capable of doing so. Life support. In the future, astronomers hope to send a dedicated mission to explore Enceladus, which could provide a definitive answer about whether life exists on the ocean world.
“Our work provides further evidence that Enceladus hosts some of the most important molecules for both creating the building blocks of life and sustaining that life through metabolic reactions,” according to one of the study’s lead authors.
“Not only does Enceladus appear to meet the basic requirements for habitation, but we now have an idea about how complex biomolecules formed there, and what kind of chemical pathways might be involved.”