NASA Says Saturn's Moon Enceladus Is Coughing Up Ingredients for Alien Life

NASA said that future missions to Saturn's icy moon Enceladus may shed light on its habitability.

In a statement, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington, outlined the significance of the find: "This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment".

The new research, which were published Thursday in the journal Science, "indicates there is chemical potential to support microbial systems", he said.

Water samples taken from an icy moon orbiting Saturn have indicated that it could support alien lifeforms, scientists have announced.

The Cassini scientists said Saturn's moon Enceladus appears to play host to both liquid water and chemical energy that's required for life to exist, such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen.

Enceladus is an icy moon a billion miles farther away from the sun than Earth is. Hydrogen molecules in geysers on the moon are a possible sign of life.

There is not only a warm, wet environment, there is also food for life on Enceladus as there is fuel for an ecosystem there.

This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015.

The energy can be obtained from the combination of hydrogen and carbon dioxide dissolved in water.

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

However, the moon of Saturn has "almost all of the ingredients that you need to support life as we know it on Earth", said NASA scientist Linda Spilker. Finding this hydrothermal process on Enceladus shows the potential for the existence of life within its ocean. "Enceladus is too small to have retained hydrogen, so the gas we see today is coming from inside Enceladus". To search for hydrogen specifically native to Enceladus, the spacecraft flew particularly close to the surface and operated INMS in a specific mode to minimize and quantify any spurious sources.

It was after the Cassini spacecraft which flew through a huge plume of water that the findings surfaced up.

"This is truly an exciting time for us to be able to probe those and really try to understand what's happening in these ocean worlds", said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division for NASA, during Thursday's conference.

As for what's next, NASA will launch a Europa Clipper mission in the 2020s based off of the Hubble's monitoring of Europa, and Cassini's look into Enceladus' plume.

  • Carolyn Briggs