Scientists Make Major Discovery On Saturn Moon

Posted: Jul 4 2018, 8:44am CDT | by , Updated: Jul 5 2018, 5:53am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Enceladus jets and shadows
Enceladus jets and shadows, via ESA.

The discovery of organic molecules on Enceladus has scientists excited for the possibility of alien life there.

In a groundbreaking new discovery, scientists have used data from the international Cassini spacecraft to reveal complex organic molecules on the Saturnian moon of Enceladus. It is an important finding that could have major implications in the search for life outside of Earth.

The icy moon has a surface hostile to life, but scientists believe that a more temperate ocean swirls beneath, and that makes it a prime candidate for life in our solar system. Scientists knew very little about Enceladus a little more than a decade ago when Cassini first approached, but since then the moon has become the subject of intense focus by scientists, according to a statement by the European Space Agency.

Scientists believe that there are powerful hydrothermal vents in these sub-surface oceans, and the discovery of complex organic molecules means the ingredients are there for at least some form of life. Determining whether there actually is life there is a little bit more tricky, however.

The research team studying Enceladus is led by Frank Postberg and Nozair Khawaja of the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Their findings were published in the journal Nature.

“It is the first ever detection of complex organics coming from an extraterrestrial water-world,” Frank said in an ESA statement.

“We found large molecular fragments that show structures typical for very complex organic molecules,” added Nozair. “These huge molecules contain a complex network often built from hundreds of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and likely nitrogen that form ring-shaped and chain-like substructures.”

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