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Published: Sun, April 16, 2017
Research | By Jennifer Evans

Saturn's moon Enceladus harbours chemical energy for life

Saturn's moon Enceladus harbours chemical energy for life

Saturn's moon Enceladus has hydrogen gas pouring into the ocean from underneath, NASA said Cassini data indicated. The chemical analysis suggests the seafloor of the ocean has hot fluid vents that keep the ocean liquid, warm, and hospitable to life. This suggests that the ocean we know lies beneath the moon's surface could indeed contain an ecosystem similar to the ones we find in deep-sea hydrothermal vents on Earth.

The discovery makes Enceladus the only place beyond Earth where scientists have found direct evidence of a possible energy source for life, according to the findings in the journal Science.

NASA has reported that its Cassini spacecraft mission discovered interesting scientific results about some of the ice and ocean on moons of both Saturn and Jupiter, which have been the sources of increased scientific research.

From a long time scientists have thought of Enceladus as one of the most probable candidates for life within the solar system, in large part because of its subsurface ocean that covers its entire body. Either way the implications are profound.

"This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement.

The US space agency has also released a video explaining that Saturn's icy moon Enceladus has all the basic ingredients for life. Water is believed to exist on three Saturn moons as well, Enceladus, Titan, and Mimas.

NASA's Saturn probe Cassini observed a plume of water from a crack in Enceladus's ice. The gas could be a chemical energy source of life, scientists involved with the mission said. In case you are wondering how Hydrogen even comes into the picture at all, the process through which microbes break hydrogen and produce methane is expected to be a sure shot indication of the presence of life and indeed, many believe that the process was fundamental in sustaining life on our earth as well.

The craft found that the moon's levels of carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen were "out of equilibrium", which could actually lead to an energy source that could provide food for potential inhabitants. The final results were published in the journal Science.

The administration plans to send a spacecraft called Clipper to Jupiter's water-covered moon Europa in the 2020s to investigate whether conditions there are suitable for life.

These composite images show a suspected plume of material erupting two years apart from the same location on Jupiter's icy moon Europa.

NASA on Thursday confirmed the discovery of hydrogen on Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, a circumstance that could mean there are living organisms there.

"Cassini and Enceladus really allowed us to see the kind of things we could do with mass spectrometers and, more importantly, with material that's coming up straight out of the ocean", Waite said. When the researchers analysed this data, they concluded that nearly 98% of the plume gas is water, with 1% of hydrogen, and the rest being other molecules like carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia. The Hubble team has published additional evidence of plumes of water erupting from the surface of Europa, a moon of Jupiter.

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