NASA Announces Evidence Saturn's Moon Could Support Life

This Wednesday Oct. 28 2015 image provided by NASA shows Saturns moon Enceladus center as the Cassini spacecraft prepared to make a close flyby of the icy moon

Forty years ago, scientists on Earth found an astonishing oasis of life clustered around vents at the bottom of the ocean.

Cassini has found that nearly all of these ingredients are there on Enceladus, a tiny icy moon at a distance of a billion miles away from Saturn. "Although we can not detect life, we have found that there is a food source there for it", said lead author of the Cassini study Hunter Waite.

The vapor or gas contains hydrogen, one of the essential components of life.

"This is a very significant finding because the hydrogen could be a potential source of chemical energy for any microbes that might be in Enceladus ocean", NASA Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker said.

Enceladus now appears likely to have all three of the ingredients scientists think life needs: liquid water, a source of energy such as sunlight or chemical energy, and the right chemical ingredients like carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

'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'.

"It would be wonderful but we haven't discovered organisms in the ocean on Enceladus", said Voytek during the announcement.

The researchers believe the gas is pouring into the moon's subsurface ocean through hydrothermal activity on the seafloor.

Cassini's mission ends in September, when the probe will descend into Saturn's atmosphere, sending back as much data as it can before it is destroyed by the heat and pressure.

This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015. Those traces are all signs of the presence of life as we know it. The team concluded that as long as the seawater has a certain level of acidity, it is replete with hydrogen and carbon dioxide, providing "a lot of food for microbes", Waite says. 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. Previous thermal images from the Galileo Europa Mission showed a hot spot that was originally identified as a thermal anomaly. "So money for the moment, is still on Europa - but it could be on any of these moons".

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. "We re finding new environments", said James Green, NASA s Planetary Science Division Director. The hydrogen may be the result of deep-sea chemical reactions between water and rock, which could spark microscopic life, scientists announced Thursday.

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