Published: Fri, April 14, 2017
Science | By Hubert Green

Saturn's moon has nearly all conditions to support life

NASA's Cassini spacecraft detected the presence of molecular hydrogen in water plumes erupting from Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, the US space agency announced Thursday, suggesting that the distant world has nearly all the conditions necessary for life.

It was after the Cassini spacecraft which flew through a huge plume of water that the findings surfaced up.

Nasa's findings, which have been published in the journal Science, said the only plausible source for the hydrogen found was that there have been chemical reactions between the warm water and rocks on the ocean floor.

In a related perspective, Jeffrey Seewald of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who was not involved in the study, described the findings as "an important advance in assessing the habitability of Enceladus".

In a major announcement on Thursday, scientists published research analyzing the ice plumes shooting into space from Saturn's moon Enceladus.

"Now, Enceladus is high on the list in the solar system for showing habitable conditions", said Hunter Waite, one of the study s leading researchers. Some of the material falls back on to the planet's surface as ice. Much of the rest gathers into a halo of ice dust.

NASA's Cassini ends a 13-year mission expoloring Saturn and its surrounding 62 known moons in September.

Several moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn are known to contain underground oceans, but Enceladus is the only one where scientists have found proof of an energy source for life.

Enceladus is quite small, makes it about 15 percent as large as Earth's moon.

The new research suggests that Saturn's this moon has a chemical energy source capable of supporting life.

The observations were made a year ago at the same location that the Hubble telescope saw evidence of a plume in 2014.

Also on Thursday, NASA researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope reported in The Astrophysical Journal Letters additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa, indicating that the ocean-bearing world may be another ideal place to look for alien life.

Associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Tomas Zurbuchen, said: "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".

Both studies are laying the foundation for the Europa Clipper mission, which is slated to launch in the 2020s.

The detection of molecular hydrogen occurred in October 2015 during Cassini's last pass through Enceladus' plumes, when it skimmed 30 miles (49 km) above the moon's southern pole taking samples.

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