NASA on Thursday revealed that conditions on Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon orbiting Saturn, may be ideal to support life. Details of new findings about ocean worlds in our solar system, arising from discoveries by the agency's Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope were announced live by the agency.
NASA's press release explained that microbes - if there are any that exist there - could combine hydrogen with carbon dioxide dissolved in water to obtain energy.
While Cassini is reaching the end of its life, NASA has already confirmed that it will be sending a probe to Europa, another "ocean world" orbiting Jupiter that has numerous same characteristics as Enceladus. Earth has some of these on its sea floors, where hydrogen combined with carbon dioxide produces methane in a process called "methanogenesis", which is theorized to be a core component for microbial life on our planet. "Although we can not detect life, we have found that there is a food source there for it", said lead author of the Cassini study Hunter Waite.
This is the closest scientists have come to identifying a place having the ingredients for life, said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate.
Two NASA spacecraft discovered plumes of water vapor erupting from the moons of Saturn and Jupiter - kind of like geysers here on earth.
"The search for life beyond Earth has enthralled humans for ages", Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
"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", he added.
The Cassini spacecraft wasn't created to detect life in Enceladus plume since the scientists didn't know that it existed until the spacecraft reached Saturn.
Here's why the finding of molecular hydrogen matters: It provides evidence that hot rocks and water are interacting under the moon's surface.
"We now know that Enceladus has nearly all of the ingredients you would need for life here on Earth", Spilker added.
They are said to make Enceladus the only place apart from Earth where a potential energy source for life has been found.
Scientists also considered other sources of hydrogen from the moon itself, such as a preexisting reservoir in the ice shell or global ocean. Those traces are all signs of the presence of life as we know it. The Europa Clipper mission is set to launch to Europa in the 2020s.
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