Saturn, Jupiter Moons May Be Able To Support Life — NASA New Discoveries

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected hydrogen in a plume of gas and icy particles spraying from Saturn's moon Enceladus, prompting the question could it be a suitable energy source for microbes to exist in its sub-surface oceans.

The researchers' findings, published in the journal Science, indicate the presence of hydrogen gas on the 310-mile wide moon of Enceladus. These vents support ecosystems based on organisms that consume chemicals for energy.

As per reports, Cassini is not able to detect life, and has found no evidence that Enceladus is inhabited. This reaction involves combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide dissolved in water to produce methane.

What are the primary ingredients that are needed for a place to sustain life?

Writing in the journal Science, the USA team led by Dr Hunter Waite, from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, concluded: "Our analysis supports the feasibility of methanogenesis as an energy-releasing process that can occur over a wide range of geochemical conditions plausible for Enceladus' ocean".

So what exactly could be lurking under the surface?

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On Earth, where we find water, we find life, so that's where we like to look for life in space, too.

Scientists said the moon appeared to have ample energy supplies to support life - roughly the equivalent of 300 pizzas per hour, according to Christopher Glein, a geochemist at the Southwest Research Institute in Texas.

The oceans exist a few miles below the surface of Enceladus, therefore researchers must draw conclusions from the vapors that rise into the atmosphere through the cracks in the ice. But paradoxically, the large amount detected could make finding life less likely. On the other hand, the fact that we can measure high concentration of carbon dioxide and hydrogen means there might not be life at all or it is not very active. We have this buildup of food that's not being used. We think Enceladus might be fairly young. The decision to end the mission was made in 2010, in order to avoid damaging moons like Enceladus, which could be explored for signs of life in the future. Europa is much older and any potential life there has had more time to emerge.

It's going to take years for scientists to definitively determine whether there is life on either moon. The Europa Clipper mission, set to send a probe and lander to Jovian moon, is scheduled to launch sometime in the next decade. "After over 10 years of the Cassini mission, this represents a capstone finding for the mission and means that Enceladus has nearly all of the ingredients you would need to support life here on Earth".

The spacecraft will crash into Saturn in September, after a job well done.

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