Published: Sun, April 16, 2017
Science | By Boyd Webster

There May be Alien Life on Saturn's Moon Enceladus

Saturn's ice-crusted moon Enceladus may now be the single best place to go to look for life beyond Earth.

The new research suggests that Saturn's this moon has a chemical energy source capable of supporting life.

"These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA's science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not", he said in a statement.

The hydrogen was detected during a 2015 flyby when NASA's Cassini spacecraft raced through plumes of vapor spewing from cracks at the moon's south pole, scientists said.

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.

"We now know that Enceladus has nearly all of the ingredients you would need for life here on Earth", Spilker added.

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 USA space agency said. One form of chemical energy has been noted as being able to feed life, which appears to exist on Saturn's moon called Enceladus.

Her associate on the project, Chris Glein, said no evidence had yet been found of organisms on Enceladus.

"We're moving towards Enceladus's ocean being habitable, but we're not making any claims at this point about it being inhabited", said the lead author of the study published Thursday in the Science journal, Hunter Waite.

In a separate study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope again found what is likely a plume emitting from Europa, one of Jupiter's four largest moons, which also has an icy crust atop an ocean.

However, the scientists think that because the moon is young, there may not have been time for life to emerge. As with Europa, a moon of Jupiter, this heat warms up the interior, creating an ocean with hydrothermal activity and surface fractures from which materials can escape in space. And Enceladus has almost all of these ingredients.

This process, where microbes break down the hydrogen and release methane as a byproduct, is known as methanogenesis.

"[The] fact that that we can measure such high concentrations of hydrogen and carbon dioxide mean that there might not be life there at all, and if there is life, it's not very active". It had already been suggested from previous results in 2015 that hot water on the moon was interacting with rock beneath the sea. Like Enceladus, both plumes correspond to the location of an unusually warm region that is marked by features that could be cracks in the moon's icy crust.

Today's news comes as Nasa is eager to secure funds for its planned Europa Clipper mission to the Jupiter moon.

Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science, at Nasa says, "If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper we will be ready for them".

"Most of us would be excited with any life", said Mary Voytek, an astrobiology senior scientist for NASA.

"It makes the Enceladus ocean seem a heck of a lot more habitable than we were thinking yesterday", agreed Ariel Anbar, an astrobiologist at Arizona State University.

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