NASA just discovered the first food source for potential aliens

When Cassini-Huygens passed through those plumes, it found "that hydrogen is coming from a hydro-thermal vent on the seafloor of Enceladus, going out into space in the plume", according to Dr. Linda Spilker, a Cassini-Huygens project scientist.

A tiny, icy ocean world orbiting Saturn is now a hotter-than-ever candidate for potential alien life.

This is the latest discovery by Cassini, a spacecraft that is heading into its final months after 13 years of exploring Saturn, its moons and rings.

In addition to the Enceladus discovery, researchers revealed that a "probable plume" was found erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa previous year, lending credence to claims that such plumes exist on the moon.

Scientists believe life could exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus around hydrothermal vents which are similar to those found at the bottom of the Earth's ocean.

Scientists agree that life requires liquid water, a source of energy for metabolic activities, and a coherent combination of chemicals, these primarily being carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulfur. "These results. are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not". The findings on Jupiter's moon Europa were discovered by the Hubble telescope, NASA said at a news conference in Washington.

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. 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. 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.

"Most of us would be excited with any life", said Mary Voytek, a senior scientist for NASA.

Cassini's mission ends in September, when the probe will descend into Saturn's atmosphere, sending back as much data as it can before it is destroyed by the heat and pressure. "It would be like a candy store for microbes", says lead author Hunter Waite.

Meanwhile, the hydrogen discovery also makes it more likely that methane is being produced from carbon dioxide on the moon, a process known as methanogenesis. In the paper, the Cassini scientists shared that Enceladus has a type of chemical energy, which life can feed on.

  • Carolyn Briggs