Enceladus is one of Saturn’s moons. It is 2,000 million kilometers away from Earth and has a diameter of 500 kilometers. In it there are cryovolcanoes, geysers and a very old ocean beneath its icy crust with a seabed not very different from that of the Earth, whose mysteries can begin to be deciphered from their last discovery: it meets the necessary conditions to house some kind of lifetime. This was revealed by a study led by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Texas, after assessing the data obtained by the Cassini probe, a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency launched in 1997 to explore Saturn and its rings, whose mission has ended.
During these 20 years of expedition, the Cassini probe has taken samples of the materials that emanated from the surface of Enceladus flying over the satellite and crossing the fumaroles that sprout from its geysers. The captured gases could come from hydrothermal chimneys that would exist at the bottom of a liquid ocean on which there is a layer of ice several kilometers thick.
According to the results published by the SwRI scientists in the journal Nature, Enceladus would be one of the two bodies of the Solar System most likely to house living beings. Large organic molecules rich in carbon and hydrogen are expelled from the surface, necessary for life. “Previously we had only identified the simplest organic molecules, a few carbon atoms, but it was still a mystery,” explains one of the study’s co-authors, Christopher Glein, in a statement.
The presence of carbon dioxide and hydrogen, at concentrations much higher than previously thought, and a level of Ph similar to Earth leads Lucas Fifer, one of its authors, to ensure that living microbes could find here a true chemical banquet. There could also be high concentrations of ammonium, which is also a potential fuel for life.
“The presence of large complex molecules, together with liquid water and hydrothermal activity, reinforces the hypothesis that the Enceladus ocean can be a habitable environment for life. With complex organic molecules emanating from its inner ocean, this moon is the only body, in addition to the Earth, that satisfies all the basic requirements for life as we know it, ”he adds.
The new information on the composition of the ocean of Enceladus gives scientists a better understanding of the ability of the oceanic world to house life, something decisive for continuing exploration. Glein prefers to remain cautious, although he cannot avoid his enthusiasm by thinking that “the biological synthesis of organic molecules in Enceladus is possible. ” The researchers will present their work at the AbSciCon2019 astrobiology conference.