Life on Saturn's moon?


Enceladus has been the talk of the scientific community for quite some time because it, along with Jupiter's moon Europa, is considered one of the most likely candidates in our solar system for finding life. Enceladus is Saturn's sixth largest moon, was discovered in 1789 and is 1.272 billion kilometers (0.790 billion miles) away from Earth.

Thanks to Cassini, organic chemicals-carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur-which are the basic building blocks of life, were seen spraying forth from the "tiger stripe" cracks on the cold surface of the moon.

Cassini mission researchers looked into the results from images taken, which found plumes. 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.

Cassini has detected hydrogen molecules in vapour plumes emanating from cracks in the surface of Enceladus, a small ocean moon coated in a thick layer of ice, the U.S. space agency said. This hydrogen can be used by microbes, to produce food by means of chemical reactions combining it with dissolved carbon dioxide.

Mathanogensis, a chemical reaction that produces methane as a byproduct, is at the root of the tree of life on Earth and could even have been critical to the origin of life on the planet.

NASA said Enceladus has "almost all of the ingredients needed to support life as we know it on Earth", but admitted they found no living organisms.

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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. Cassini's nearly 20-year mission will soon come to a close as it is now planned to be destroyed by diving into the Saturn's atmosphere on September 15, 2017. And the potential for hydrothermal similarities to Enceladus is supported by thermal imaging captured during a flyby of Europa by the Galileo probe over 15 years ago, which saw heat activity right below the plume location.

The discovery involves the chemical analysis of those plumes by mass spectrometry from a device on Cassini, with an eye to demonstrating that Enceladus's underground ocean might support the creation of hydrogen gas as water reacts with iron-bearing minerals in rocks. That's how the Cassini team found hydrogen in the water. The first potential flare up was recorded at 30 miles high in 2014, while the most recent one measured in at 62 miles above Europa's surface.

The Cassini spacecraft perceived the presence of hydrogen in the gas plumes and other materials, which were emanating from Enceladus.

It's possible, but NASA scientists presenting the findings at a press conference said they'd be happy to find any signs of life from microbes on up. "It would be like a candy store for microbes", said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study, according to NASA.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft said the icy, ocean-covered body possesses ample amounts of hydrogen gas.

"If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper we will be ready for them", said James Green, NASA's Planetary Science Division Director.