Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus has a form of chemical energy that life can feed on, researchers with NASAs Cassini mission to Saturn have revealed.”Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. In a separate study, scientists also reported additional evidence of water vapour plumes erupting from Jupiter’s moon Europa.Together, the findings suggest that these active ocean worlds in our solar system are worth more exploration in our search for life beyond the Earth.
The study from researchers with the Cassini mission, published in the journal Science, indicates hydrogen gas — which could potentially provide a chemical energy source for life — is pouring into the subsurface ocean of Enceladus from hydrothermal activity on the seafloor.
The presence of ample hydrogen in the moon’s ocean means that microbes — if any exist there — could use it to obtain energy by combining the hydrogen with carbon dioxide dissolved in the water.
This chemical reaction, known as “methanogenesis” because it produces methane as a byproduct, is at the root of the tree of life on the Earth, and could even have been critical to the origin of life on our planet.
Life as we know it requires three primary ingredients: liquid water; a source of energy for metabolism; and the right chemical ingredients, primarily carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and sulphur.
With this finding, Cassini has shown that Enceladus — a small, icy moon a billion miles farther from the Sun than the Earth — has nearly all of these ingredients for habitability.