It is too early to conclude that life exists on Enceladus, the sixth largest of the 62 confirmed moons of Saturn. But scientists are intrigued, because liquid water, an energy source, and organic molecules are three key elements to supporting life as we know it – and Enceladus has all three.
"We now know that the Enceladus ocean contains all of these ingredients today," said Christopher Glein, a geochemist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, and a co-author of the study, MACH said in an E -Mail. "Apart from the earth, no other place in the solar system has confirmed evidence of all three requirements in a modern environment that can support life."
The researchers believe that these organic compounds are formed in the nucleus of Enceladus and then flow into the subterranean ocean hydrothermal vents before they escape through cracks in the icy crust of the moon.
Previously, scientists had detected methane and other simple organic compounds in Enceladus' feathers. These molecules contain one or two carbon atoms and a few atoms of hydrogen. But the newly discovered molecules are made up of hundreds of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen – all arranged in rings and long chains.
"Large organic molecules are a necessary precursor to life, so this is encouraging," Postberg
The data that led to the discovery were obtained from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which was 13 years old long Saturn and its moons circled before NASA volunteers intentionally ended the mission in September 2017 by the impact of the probe into the Ringed planet
To find out if Enceladus is home to a host, researchers now want to send a spacecraft to To explore the ice moon up close and to determine the origin of the molecules.
Enceladus is a particularly good target for a spacecraft because his ocean has "escaped into space where it can be sampled by simply flying a spacecraft through the cloud," said Joseph Spitale, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson , Arizona,
Spitale said the new discovery was not a "smoking weapon" for life on Saturn's moon, but with instruments looking for biosignatures – or vital signs – researchers could become better at understanding these complex molecules
" We found the stuff, "said Glein," now we have to understand it. "
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