NASA Says Moon Orbiting Saturn Might Be Habitable

Gwen Vasquez
April 20, 2017

With this finding, "we now know Enceladus has nearly all of the ingredients that you need to support life as we know it on Earth", Spilker said.

It was during Cassini's flyby of Enceladus in 2015 that the Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) detected molecular hydrogen as the spacecraft flew through a plume of vapor ejected from the moon's surface. In addition now, there is proof that a source of energy, namely hydrogen, exists.

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

"The search for life beyond Earth has enthralled humans for ages", Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. 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.

Now, NASA's Cassini probe suggests the icy moon also features the right combination of chemicals - including carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen - as well as a fuel source.

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Enceladus is a small, icy moon located a billion miles farther away from the sun than the Earth is, NASA said.

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. The presence of ample hydrogen in the ocean of Enceladus implies that microbes, if they do exist on Saturn's moon, could use it to gain energy by combining it with carbon dioxide dissolved in water. The moons, Enceladus (Saturn's moon) and Europa (Jupiter's moon), likely have a form of chemical energy that can support life without sunlight, similar to what goes on deep under water on the surface of Earth's sea floor.

Several moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn are known to contain underground oceans, but Enceladus is the only one where scientists have found proof of an energy source for life. David Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University, said: "At present, we know of only one genesis of life, the one that led to us". The Hubble Space Telescope has observed what looks to be plumes emanating from Europa.

It's going to take years for scientists to definitively determine whether there is life on either moon. A spacecraft under development called the Europa Clipper could shed more light on the matter.

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