NASA believes Saturn's moon could support alien life

20 April, 2017, 07:36 | Author: Oscar Goodwin

An ice-encrusted moon orbiting Saturn appears to have the conditions necessary for life, NASA announced Thursday, unveiling new findings made by its unmanned Cassini spacecraft.

According to a report from Phys Org, scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) discovered hydrogen erupting from the surface of Enceladus. So far, the Cassini mission has show almost all those ingredients except phosphorus and sulfur in the ocean world.

There are three essential ingredients for life: water, a source of energy for metabolism, and a mixture of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur.

Researchers called its latest discovery a "capstone finding for the mission".

Cassini scientists detected hydrogen molecules - which could potentially provide a chemical energy source for life - in water pouring into the subsurface ocean of Enceladus from hydrothermal activity on the seafloor.

The Cassini mission's deepest dive into the plume took place on October 28, 2015 - and found its composition to be 98 percent water, one percent hydrogen, and a mixture of other molecules including carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia.

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.

Also on Thursday, NASA researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope reported in The Astrophysical Journal Letters additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa, indicating that the ocean-bearing world may be another ideal place to look for alien life.

Scientists suspect that this is what's happening on Enceladus, hence the presence of molecular hydrogen in the plumes.

The Cassini craft was not created to detect signs of life, and scientists did not know the plume existed until they received data showing its existence. Plumes of water vapor spew from cracks at the moon's south pole.

The observations - that Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus emits a hydrogen plume, and Jupiter's moon Europa shows a similar phenomenon - mean life may just exist in our solar system other than on Earth, said the NASA experts. She said her money is on Europa, when asked by a reporter which moon was more likely to host life. The plumes also correspond with a relatively warm region on Europa's surface observed by the Galileo spacecraft. Says Jim Green director of planetary science at NASA.

The Europa Clipper is set to launch in the 2020s and will make close flybys to Europa to study the oceans there to determine whether or not the same thing is happening there as on Enceladus, and importantly whether or not the moon could possibly support life.

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