Enceladus, the icy moon of Saturn, satisfies the fundamental requirements for life as we know it, reported the scientists who have pinpointed carbon-rich organic molecules emerging from the crevices on the surface of the moon, in a study released yesterday in the journal Nature.
“We must be cautious, but it is exciting to consider that this discovery indicates that biological synthesis of organic molecules is possible in Enceladus,” reported Christopher Glein, one of the study’s co-authors.
Researchers at the Southwestern Research Institute (SwRI) in the United States agree that the geochemical reactions of the Enceladus rocky core and the warm ocean water in its subsoil are associated with the presence of these sophisticated carbon-rich organic molecules.
“Enceladus surprises us once again. Previously we had only identified the simplest organic molecules, a few carbon atoms, but even that was very enigmatic,” added Glein.
Enceladus, the icy moon of Saturn, meets the requirements for life and might even house microbial life
Enceladus is now the only space object, other than the Earth, that “meets all the basic requirements for life as we know it,” as the researchers pointed out, thanks to these complex organic molecules that originate from its liquid water oceans.
The Cassini probe collapsed in the atmosphere of Saturn last September, after a 20-year mission to gather data on the second-largest planet of our solar system and its moons. During one of its flights over the planet and its moons, Cassini registered a plume of matter rising from the undergrounds of Enceladus.
Cassini’s instrument started to analyze the plume and identified molecular hydrogen as the probe passed right through that matter plume. Molecular hydrogen, according to the scientists, is created by geochemical reactions of water and rocks in hydrothermal conditions.
On Earth, hydrogen is the chemical source of energy that sustains the life of the microbes found near hydrothermal vents, deep into the oceans. That’s why this discovery is “of great importance,” as Christopher Glein said because it is showing that Enceladus might indeed meet the fundamental requirement for life.