A tiny, ice-encrusted ocean world orbiting Saturn is now a hotter-than-ever candidate for potential life.
It shows similarities to Earth's hydrothermal vents, which supports microbial life on the ocean floor through the chemical energy from hydrogen.
The vapor or gas contains hydrogen, one of the essential components of life.
In a first confirmation of its kind, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has confirmed the possibility of life inhabiting Enceladus, the watery moon of Saturn.
The presence of hydrogen in the ocean on this moon of Saturn means that microbes - if they exist there - could use it to obtain energy by combining it with carbon dioxide dissolved in the water there, scientists said.
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The findings were announced along with observations by the Hubble Space Telescope of another, much older moon - evidence of plumes spraying out of the surface of Jupiter's Europa. It is believed the hydrogen came from a hydrothermal reaction between the moon's ocean and its rocky core.
The new research suggests that Saturn's this moon has a chemical energy source capable of supporting life.
From these observations scientists were able to find that almost 98 percent of the gas in the plume is water, about 1 percent is hydrogen and the remaining is a mixture of other molecules including carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia. If they end up finding any, it likely wouldn't resemble Earth's since it would generate from a different chemical environment, the scientists said during today's stream announcing the findings.
"Most of us would be excited with any life, and certainly when we're talking about the sources of energy, this is to feed the base of a food web. It would be like a candy store for microbes", said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study. The Europa Clipper mission is set to launch to Europa in the 2020s.
90% of the gas found from the plans observed by the Cassini mission, the Cassini spacecraft mission, is water as well as 1% hydrogen with a mix of other elements such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, and methane.
"This finding does not mean that life exists there, but it makes life more plausible and potentially quite abundant if a fraction of the hydrogen is used to drive biology", Jeffrey Kargel, a professor at the University of Arizona, told The Guardian.