NASA Scientists Discover Nearby Ocean Worlds That Could Mean Life Beyond Earth

According to NASA and JPL, the Cassini spacecraft detected a flow of hydrogen gas into the sub-surface ocean on the icy moon Enceladus.

Two teams of NASA scientists reported Thursday that conditions on moons of two distant planets could support microbial life. It seems that Enceladus falls under the "ocean planet" category in which a flagship element of the moon happens to be its hidden ocean which is showing off-chart signs of hydrogen gasses and molecules being poured in and reaching the seafloor.

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.

The Cassini spacecraft detected the hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy material spraying from Enceladus during its last, and deepest, dive through the plume on October 28, 2015. Either way the implications are profound.

The US space agency has also released a video explaining that Saturn's icy moon Enceladus has all the basic ingredients for life.

On Earth, methane-making bugs flourish in the vicinity of hydrothermal vents, fissures in the ocean floor that gush water heated by volcanic activity.

Artist's illustration of Cassini flying through plumes from Saturn's moon Enceladus.

The new research suggests that Saturn's this moon has a chemical energy source capable of supporting life.

It is already known that three crucial ingredients are required for life to exist - water, right chemical matters which are the building blocks of life like carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur and a source of energy for metabolism.

See, NASA says since there's ample hydrogen in Enceladus' ocean, there may also be microbes.

The presence of hydrogen could also indicate the presence of microbes, which could use it to obtain energy by combining it with the carbon-di-oxide dissolved in the water.

Cassini wasn't created to detect signs of life in the Enceladus plume - indeed, scientists didn't know the plume existed until after the spacecraft arrived at Saturn.

Researchers published their findings in the journal Science for those interested in digging deeper.

Europa is one of Jupiter's moons and has an icy crust over a salty liquid water ocean which has double the quantity of water in Earth's seas. Hollywood explored this terrain in the 2013 film Europa Report, depicting a crewed mission to the moon and investigation of its subsurface ocean.

The theory: hydro-thermal vents deep in Earth's oceans produce hydrogen that microbes use for food.

The plumes have led scientists to infer that hydrothermal chemical reactions between the moon s rocky core and its ocean - located under the ice - are likely occurring on Enceladus.

Analysis has shown the plumes mainly to consist of tiny particles of water ice, with traces of methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, salts, and simple organic molecules. If the plumes really do exist, they could provide scientists with samples of Europas seawater.

Hubble Space Telescope images of possible plumes on Jupiter's moon Europa.

The Europa Clipper will be equipped with a powerful ultraviolet imaging system that will be able to make close-up, high-resolution observations that should reveal the nature of the presumed plumes and whether they represent water escaping through the surface cracks. Here's more info on that mission and Europa as a whole.

  • Carolyn Briggs