Life—at least as we know it—hasn’t been found anywhere else in space except for Earth. Enceladus could change that.
Saturn’s frozen moon already has vast subsurface oceans and an energy source that could provide heat for whatever hypothetical creatures might be swimming around. A study recently published in the journal Nature just found out that there is a third ingredient for life on Enceladus that may not prove aquatic aliens exist, but at least ups the possibility that we might not be alone in this universe.
Cassini (RIP) left behind data that has now been used by an international team of scientists to determine that there are complex organic molecules floating around on Enceladus. Organic molecules contain carbon and are mandatory for life forms on our planet to survive, so finding them on Enceladus now makes it the most likely place beyond our planet for alien species to thrive. That doesn’t necessarily mean space fish are swarming beneath the icy crust.
“Enceladus’ subsurface ocean is a habitable place. The big question is if it is inhabited," planetary scientist and team lead Frank Postberg told NBC MACH.
The researchers believe that these compounds are ejected through cracks in the moon’s crust by a cryo-volcano that spews vaporous plumes full of tiny ice grains into space. It was in some of these ice grains that the organic molecules were found. Spacecraft don’t have to dive deep for evidence of organics on Enceladus, because they can collect data for scientists to investigate further just by flying over these plumes.
“Hydrothermal activity is suspected to occur deep inside the porous core,” said Postberg and his team in the study. Think of the hydrothermal vents that gush hot water in the dark depths of Earth’s oceans (and are also teeming with life). Scientists believe there are similar vents on the ocean floor of the Saturnian moon which expel organic compounds that originate in its core.
While simpler organic compounds such as methane have been proven to exist on Enceladus before, molecules with only one or two carbon atoms and a few atoms of hydrogen are nothing compared to these newly unearthed molecules that are made up of rings and chains of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. You know, kind of like substances found on Earth. No wonder researchers have become eager to send a space probe over there already.
Though the alien question has still gone unanswered, you never know if the next find won’t just be a molecule, but a microbe.
(via NBC Mach)