Using data from NASA’s Cassini mission, the researchers have found new kinds of life ingredients on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft orbited Saturn for 12 years before the mission ended in 2017.
But just recently, scientists used data from Cassini to find new kinds of organic compounds on Enceladus. These compounds dwell in the plumes of liquid water that shoot into space from the ocean below Enceladus’ icy crust.
These compounds, which carry nitrogen and oxygen, play a key role in producing amino acids. Scientists regard the amino acids as one of the main ingredients for life.
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NASA said in a statement: “On Earth, similar compounds are part of chemical reactions that produce amino acids, the building blocks of life.
“Hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor provide the energy that fuels the reactions. Scientists believe Enceladus’ hydrothermal vents may operate in the same way, supplying energy that leads to the production of amino acids.”
Enceladus is an icy moon. Snaking blue tendrils there, cover a snowy white surface. The icy shell surrounding Enceladus could have an average thickness of 25 kilometers. But on the moon’s south pole where the icy plumes blast out, it is as thin as just one kilometer.
However, scientists suggest the moon’s core and rock interaction could keep the subsurface water warm enough to remain in liquid form.
“If the conditions are right, these molecules coming from the deep ocean of Enceladus could be on the same reaction pathway as we see here on Earth. We don’t yet know if amino acids are needed for life beyond Earth, but finding the molecules that form amino acids is an important piece of the puzzle,” said Nozair Khawaja, who led the research team of the Free University of Berlin. His findings were published Oct. 2 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
“This work shows that Enceladus’ ocean has reactive building blocks in abundance, and it’s another green light in the investigation of the habitability of Enceladus,” said co-author, Frank Postberg.
Scientists published their findings Oct. 2 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.