Saturn Moon Enceladus And Jupiter Moon Europa Are Able To Support Life

Posted: Apr 14 2017, 4:29am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 14 2017, 4:32am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Saturn Moon Enceladus and Jupiter Moon Europa are Able to Support Life
This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015. New ocean world discoveries from Cassini and Hubble will help inform future exploration and the broader search for life beyond Earth. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
  • Saturn moon Enceladus has a form of chemical energy
  • Jupiter moon Europa found to have giant water plume

Saturn’s moon, Enceladus has all the elements and nutrients that life needs to survive on it. It just might be hosting alien life forms in our solar system.

NASA has announced new findings about its missions that provide new insights into 'Ocean Worlds' in our Solar System. The findings are presented in papers published Thursday by researchers with two veteran NASA missions, Cassini mission to Saturn and Hubble Space Telescope.

Cassini scientists revealed in on of these papers that a form of chemical energy that life can feed on appears to exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus. And in the other paper, Hubble researchers announces that they spotted additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa.

“This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. ”These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA's science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.”

Saturn’s moon, Enceladus is covered with ice. It may be the only place in the solar system though where life may still be surviving in microbial form. This opinion has been reached by the scientists after a series of novel explorations of this world by the Cassini probe. The probe has analyzed samples of the sub-surface ocean on the moon.

The sampling shows that the ocean has a bed that contains hot fluid vents. Such sites on earth are known to be littered with life forms. However, to remain in touch with reality instead of getting carried away into fantasy land, the existence of such vents does not prove once and for all that life forms exist.

The milieu of these vents may be barren for all we know. Yet, the results show that we need to delve deeper into the mysteries of Enceladus’ seabeds. That is because more may be in store for us.

"Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

We need to send such technology into that region that will ensure that the exact chemical nature of the fluids coming out of these vents is pinpointed. If there are no signs of life, well that would be too bad. Yet if there are, that would be a case of mankind having struck gold.

The sub-surface ocean on Enceladus is very deep. It is kept in liquid form thanks to the heat given off by the gravitational pull of Saturn on its moon. The Cassini probe has ensured that this liquid is in contact with the rocks that contain salts and silica. What scientists really want to know is whether an interactive process such as serpentinisation is taking place or not.

On our own planet, this process is taking place constantly. When seawater comes up through the vents in the ocean floor, it reacts with the hot rocks that are rich in magnesium and iron. As these minerals take up water molecules, a reaction takes place and they release hydrogen. This hydrogen is used by many microorganisms as an energy boost for their metabolisms.

For a microbe, hydrogen is thus like a sweet treat. Many of these tiny organisms are termed methanogens since they produce methane gas after the reaction of hydrogen with carbon dioxide within their physical forms. While the Cassini’s instruments were pretty sophisticated, they were not meant to detect life forms.

"Although we can't detect life, we've found that there's a food source there for it. It would be like a candy store for microbes," said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study.

It is hoped that with the next probe which is sent to Enceladus, such complex life detection equipment will be a part of the mission. The paper from researchers with the Cassini mission got published in the journal Science.

The paper detailing new Hubble Space Telescope findings, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. These findings reveal Europa observations from 2016. These observations actually reveal that NASA mission spotted a probable plume of water erupting from the Jupiter moon Europa’s surface at the same location where Hubble saw evidence of a plume in 2014.

According to NASA, "these images bolster evidence that the Europa plumes could be a real phenomenon, flaring up intermittently in the same region on the moon's surface."

“The plumes on Enceladus are associated with hotter regions, so after Hubble imaged this new plume-like feature on Europa, we looked at that location on the Galileo thermal map. We discovered that Europa’s plume candidate is sitting right on the thermal anomaly," said William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Sparks led the Hubble plume studies in both 2014 and 2016.

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