Astronomers Find Habitable Zone in Saturn's Moon

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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.

The space agency says Saturn's icy moon called Enceladus has nearly all the ingredients to support life.

The Cassini project scientist, Linda Spilker, said, "Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth".

The hydrogen found in the icy plumes erupting from the moon's surface have nearly all the necessary ingredients to support life on Earth, said Linda Spilker, one of the scientists working with the unmanned Cassini mission, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, said at a press conference.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is to thank for the revelation.

This is the closest scientists have come to identifying a place having the ingredients for life, said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate.

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The presence of ample hydrogen in the moon's ocean means that microbes - if any exist there - could use it to obtain energy by combining the hydrogen with carbon dioxide dissolved in the water, according to the NASA release.

Life, as is known, requires three main ingredients to originate, exist, evolve or function - liquid water, energy source for metabolism and the right chemical ingredients including oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur.

Cassini's findings reveal that the ice-covered Enceladus has pretty much all the elements required to support life forms. This is because the rocky core of the icy Saturn moon is believed to have similar chemical properties to meteorites, which contain both sulfur and phosphorus.

The Cassini spacecraft perceived the presence of hydrogen in the gas plumes and other materials, which were emanating from Enceladus. The instrument, acting as a human nose, has the ability to detect the composition of gases in its environment and picked up hydrogen in the spray. Finding this hydrothermal process on Enceladus shows the potential for the existence of life within its ocean.

Plume's composition:Cassini also sampled the plume's composition during flybys earlier in the mission. The findings were presented in papers published by researchers with NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn and work on the Hubble Space Telescope. "It would be like a candy store for microbes", said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study, according to NASA.

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