Alien life could be thriving on Saturn’s moon Enceladus
Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft has picked up the first evidence that chemical reactions are happening deep below the ice which could be creating an environment capable of supporting microbes.
Experts said the discovery was ‘the last piece’ in the puzzle which proved that life was possible on Enceladus, a finding all the more remarkable because the small moon is 887 million miles away from the Sun.
New observations of these active ocean worlds in our solar system have been captured by two NASA missions and were presented in two separate studies in an announcement at NASA HQ in Washington.
Using a mass spectrometer, the Cassini spacecraft detected an abundance of hydrogen molecules in water plumes rising from the "tiger stripe" fractures in Enceladus' icy surface. Saturn's sixth-largest moon is an ice-encased world with an ocean beneath.
The researchers believe that the hydrogen originated from a hydrothermal reaction between the moon's ocean and its rocky core. If that is the case, the crucial chemical methane could be forming in the ocean as well.
"Now, Enceladus is high on the list in the solar system for showing habitable conditions," said Hunter Waite, leader of the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer team at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and lead author of the Enceladus study.
"The presence of hydrogen established another reference point saying there is hydrothermal activity inside this body, and that's interesting because we know in our own oceans, those are very important places that are teeming with life, and they are probably one of the earliest places where life happened on Earth."
Additionally, the Hubble Space Telescope showed a water plume erupting on the warmest part of the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons with an icy crust over a salty liquid water ocean containing twice as much water as Earth's seas.
This is the second time a plume has been observed in this exact spot, which has researchers excited that it could prove to be a feature on the surface.
"This is significant, because the rest of the planet isn't easy to predict or understand, and it's happening for the second time in the warmest spot," said Britney Schmidt, second author on the Europa study. ■
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