Thursday, 14 December, 2017

NASA finds conditions for life on Saturn's moon

NASA finds conditions for life on Saturn's moon NASA finds conditions for life on Saturn's moon
Theresa Hayes | 19 April, 2017, 07:22

Although life can not be confirmed, the clues from Enceladus all indicate the conditions for life exist on the oceans of Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn.

Another plume was also found on Europa, one of Jupiter's moons that's covered in ice and has twice as much ocean as Earth underneath that surface.

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.

For NASA, this serves as strong evidence that alien life could exist within this Saturn satellite, because it has the six elements needed for life: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur. From these observations scientists have determined that almost 98 percent of the gas in the plume is water, about 1 percent is hydrogen and the rest is a mixture of other molecules, including carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia.

"Enceladus is high on the list in the solar system for showing habitable conditions", said lead author Hunter Waite.

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.

In 2015, researchers said that there was evidence of a warm ocean under the moon's surface, as NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reported.

Forty years ago, scientists on Earth found an astonishing oasis of life clustered around vents at the bottom of the ocean. Scientists suspect that this is what's happening on Enceladus, hence the presence of molecular hydrogen in the plumes.

Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters, said NASA will continue to examine these oceans.

"Although we can't detect life, we've found that there's a food source there for it".

After orbiting Saturn for 13 years, its "grand finale" mission will end in September when it is diverted to crash into Saturn.

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

Hydrogen can react with carbon dioxide dissolved in water to form "methanogenesis", which scientists think might be how life on Earth began.

For the time being we just don't know - but the ingredients for life are there, based on the research published today.

A liquid ocean exists beneath the icy surface of Enceladus, which is barely 300 miles (500 kilometers) across. The Europa Clipper mission is set to launch to Europa in the 2020s.