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Saturn's moon may be "like a candy store for microbes"
20 April 2017, 01:56 | Justin Tyler
Meanwhile, Cassini's longstanding mission is soon coming to an end.
The new findings from Nasa's Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2002, indicate that ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane and organics were also found coming from the plumes, nearly all the ingredients needed to support life on earth.
Thanks to Cassini, organic chemicals-carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur-which are the basic building blocks of life, were seen spraying forth from the "tiger stripe" cracks on the cold surface of the moon.
Enceladus is small and ice-covered, as compared to Earth, but it has liquid water, and just about everything required for life. This doesn't mean that there is life on Enceladus, but it is possible that some form of life exists there.
On Earth, such hydrothermal vents support thriving communities of life in complete isolation from sunlight.
Most importantly, Cassini detected the presence of hydrogen gas in the moon's geyser-like plumes. "With this finding, Cassini has shown that Enceladus - a small, icy moon a billion miles farther from the sun than Earth - has almost all of these ingredients for habitability". Previous flybys provided evidence for a global subsurface ocean residing above a rocky core. And the potential for hydrothermal similarities to Enceladus is supported by thermal imaging captured during a flyby of Europa by the Galileo probe over 15 years ago, which saw heat activity right below the plume location.
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.
Dr David Clements, an astrophysicist at Imperial College London, said: "This discovery does not mean that life exists on Enceladus, but it is a step on the way to that result". "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 first potential flare up was recorded at 30 miles high in 2014, while the most recent one measured in at 62 miles above Europa's surface.
From information obtained by the spacecraft, there is evidence of chemical reactions under the icy surface of the moon.
Cassini, NASA said, was never created to detect signs of life, but rather to simply record data of Saturn. "So we're going to start with bacteria and if we get lucky, maybe there's something that's larger", NASA astrobiology senior scientist Mary Voytek said at a news conference. NASA is developing a new spacecraft to take a closer look at that moon called the Europa Clipper.
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