A moon orbiting Saturn could harbour favourable conditions to support life, according to new information released by NASA.
Our solar system is home to a number of known or suspected ocean worlds (vaguely defined as a planet or moon with a substantial portion of its surface covered by water). In addition now, there is proof that a source of energy, namely hydrogen, exists.
Life could exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus around hydrothermal vents similar to those found at the bottom of Earth's oceans, scientists believe.
Hydrogen was detected by Cassini in the gas plumes and icy material that was spotted spraying from Enceladus while it was having a close flyby in October 2015. Scientists determined the gas in the plume almost 98 percent water, about 1 percent of which is hydrogen, with the rest being a mixture of carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia. The heavy presence of hydrogen suggests chemical reactions between the warm water and ocean-floor rock that could support life.
"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. The researchers reported that the hydrogen, along with carbon dioxide that was also found, could mean that undersea microorganisms are producing methane.
For life to persist on any planet, it needs three vital energy sources: liquid water, right chemical ingredients (hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, carbon, and phosphorus), and an energy source for metabolism.More news: Verizon's profit sinks as it loses wireless subscribers
Two NASA missions have new evidence of ocean worlds in our solar system, which were presented in an announcement at NASA's headquarters in Washington yesterday, Thursday April 13.
NASA says the plumes of water on the moons show, "some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment".
Cassini's INMS was devised to sample the upper atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft detected the presence of molecular hydrogen in water plumes erupting from Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, the USA space agency announced Thursday, suggesting that the distant world has nearly all the conditions necessary for life.
This new finding is therefore an independent line of evidence supporting the theory of hydrothermal activity taking place in the ocean of Enceladus.
NASA's upcoming Europa Clipper mission planned for launch in the 2020s will continue the search for life beyond Earth, and will study Enceladus with advanced equipment.