Saturn's Moon Enceladus Could Have Conditions for Life

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Cassini has no instruments that can detect life, so it will be up to future robotic visitors to seek out possible life on Enceladus, the scientists said.

During a news briefing held today, NASA has announced the spacecraft Cassini had found hydrogen as a gas - the form needed to support single-celled organisms in the moon's 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.

The new research, which were published Thursday in the journal Science, "indicates there is chemical potential to support microbial systems", he said. We also now believe Insolitus also has a huge ocean.

The hydrogen strongly suggests that hydrothermal activity is going on in the ocean below the surface of Enceladus, and because some of the most basic lifeforms on Earth thrive in ocean vents like the ones Cassini has been flying over, the same type of life could exist on Saturn's moon. "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.

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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.

The US space agency NASA's Cassini spacecraft has discovered hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy particles spraying from Saturn's sixth largest moon Enceladus.

The hydrogen and the methanogenesis could well provide a food source for microbes, experts think, in the same way it does on Earth. As it passed through, the craft detected hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane which were in "thermodynamic disequilibrium".

Once scientists made this finding they used thermal imaging via the Hubble Telescope to study Europa. Scientists determined the gas in the plume almost 98 percent water, about 1 percent of which is hydrogen, with the rest being a mixture of carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia.

"Hydrogen is a source of chemical energy for microbes that live in the Earth's oceans near hydrothermal vents", said SwRI's Dr. Hunter Waite, principal investigator of Cassini's Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS).

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Most importantly, Cassini detected the presence of hydrogen gas in the moon's geyser-like plumes.

The images add to the evidence that flares of water vapor may be shooting out from the moon's surface, though they do not prove this with certainty.

The Europa Clipper is a NASA robotic probe meant to launch sometime in the early 2020s.

"If correct, this observation has fundamental implications for the possibility of life on Enceladus", Seewald wrote. "We're finding new environments", said NASA's Planetary Science Division director, James Green.

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