Ingredients for life exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus

Pablo Tucker
April 22, 2017

Researchers on the Hubble Space Telescope report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's Europa moon.

The findings were reported Thursday in the journal Science by a team from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

NASA officials said Cassini detected the hydrogen during one of its final dives through a plume of material spraying from Enceladus in October 2015. There, microbes don't receive energy from sunlight, but use methanogenesis, a process that reduces carbon dioxide with hydrogen, to form methane.

WASHINGTON-NASA has announced that there may be proof of life outside of earth. Cassini passed close enough to Enceladus - less than 30 miles from the moon's surface - to cross through one of these geysers.

The primary ingredients required to sustain life include liquid water; a source of energy for metabolism; and the right chemical ingredients, primarily carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur.

Here is what scientists suspect the hydrothermal vents below the icy surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus look like. Enceladus is the sixth largest moon orbiting Saturn.

This graphic shows how Cassini scientists think water interacts with rock at the bottom of the ocean of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, producing hydrogen gas.

Previous results from the Cassini mission's flybys of Enceladus already had researchers intrigued.

Analysis has shown the water plumes coming off the moon mainly consist of tiny particles of water ice, with traces of methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, salts, and simple organic molecules.

If or since hydrogen was found in the oceans of the moon, in the oceans, then this could be a potential source of chemical energy for life that might be found there - if any exists there.

The Cassini mission is scheduled to end in early September.

According to William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Hubble Space Telescope captured pictures of a plume emanating from the same hot spot both in 2014 and in 2016 that were nearly identical in appearance. "Another idea is that water ejected by the plume falls onto the surface as a fine mist, changing the structure of the surface grains and allowing them to retain heat longer than the surrounding landscape".

NASA plans to further explore ocean worlds in our solar system, including through the recently named Europa Clipper mission, the first to explore an alien ocean.

The images from Europa bolster evidence that its plumes could be a real phenomenon, flaring up intermittently in the same region, NASA said.

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