Saturn's moon has nearly all conditions to support life

The evidence was collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which has been examining Saturn and its satellites since 2004, providing Earth-bound researchers with important data. NASA has announced that a form of chemical energy that life can feed on appears to exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus.

There are three essential ingredients for life: water, a source of energy for metabolism, and a mixture of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur. In addition now, there is proof that a source of energy, namely hydrogen, exists.

So which moon offers more possibility of life, Europa or Enceladus?

Cassini's nearly 20-year mission will soon come to a close as it is now planned to be destroyed by diving into the Saturn's atmosphere on September 15, 2017. That's how the Cassini team found hydrogen in the water.

Results from the Cassini spacecraft showed Enceladus has chemical energy that indicates life.

The discovery is not a surefire guarantee that there's life on Enceladus, or anywhere else beyond Earth, but it is the "closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment", according to NASA's Thomas Zurbuchen, as quoted in a press release.

NASA revealed new evidence Thursday that the mysterious plume coming from Saturn's moon Enceladus could provide clues if life exists in its subsurface ocean.

"We now know that Enceladus has nearly all of the ingredients you would need to support life as we know it on Earth", she continued.

In the fall of 2015, NASA spacecraft Cassini flew through a plume of vapor escaping from a crack in the moon's icy surface. However, according to a commentary by Jeffrey Seewald, a geochemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in MA, scientists still have a long way to go before fully understanding the possibility for life underneath the ice of Enceladus. Any life, even bacteria, would be a welcome find. Like Enceladus, both plumes correspond to the location of an unusually warm region that is marked by features that could be cracks in the moon's icy crust. The researchers reported that the hydrogen, along with carbon dioxide that was also found, could mean that undersea microorganisms are producing methane. Cassini passed close enough to Enceladus - less than 30 miles from the moon's surface - to cross through one of these geysers.

Voytek said her money is still on Europa for potential life, versus Enceladus, since Europa is much older and any potential life there has had more time to emerge.

Waite is using his knowledge from the Cassini mission to work on an improved mass spectrometer for the Europa Clipper mission.

The Europa Clipper is a NASA robotic probe meant to launch sometime in the early 2020s.

  • Carolyn Briggs