Ocean world near Saturn hotter-than-ever contender for life

14 April, 2017, 16:17 | Author: Sam Montgomery

While it may seem unlikely that a moon nearly 1.5 billion kilometres from the sun can retain a liquid ocean, the orbit of Enceladus around Saturn is more elliptical than most other moons in our solar system.

Cassini, NASA said, was never created to detect signs of life, but rather to simply record data of Saturn.

Forty years ago, scientists on Earth found an astonishing oasis of life clustered around vents at the bottom of the ocean. The findings on Jupiter's moon Europa were discovered by the Hubble telescope, NASA said at a news conference in Washington.

The Cassini spacecraft detected the hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy material spraying from Enceladus during its last, and deepest, dive through the plume.

There are not now any funded missions to Enceladus on the schedule, but Cassini's discovery may elevate NASA's desire to return to the icy moon.

If scientists find more evidence of sulfur and phosphorus on Enceladus, that could increase chances of further missions.

But he added: "I am encouraged by the geochemical data which could allow for this possibility". Have you ever wondered if there is life beyond the Earth? The hydrogen may be the result of deep-sea chemical reactions between water and rock, which could spark microscopic life, scientists announced Thursday.

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.

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In a related perspective, Jeffrey Seewald of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who was not involved in the study, described the findings as "an important advance in assessing the habitability of Enceladus".

Leader of the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Hunter Waite, said: "Now, Enceladus is high on the list in the solar system for showing habitable conditions".

The combination of energy and elements is a tantalizing mix that has researchers very excited, but it's also only a blueprint for life being supported, and that's a far cry from confirmation that it's actually there.

The moon is now thought to be one of the best potential locations of alien habitats within our solar system, the USA led team have said.

Life as we know it (on Earth) requires three ingredients-energy, liquid water and organic compounds including carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and sulfur. Plumes of water vapor spew from cracks at the moon's south pole.

The observations were made past year at the same location that the Hubble telescope saw evidence of a plume in 2014.

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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