Saturn Moon, Enceladus

Life on Enceladus? complex organic molecules on Saturn’s satellite?


From stories about the inhabitants of the Moon to the costly research programs set up by space agencies, identifying the presence of life on another heavenly body seems to be an endless concern for mankind. As the margins of the known Universe are still moving away from the Earth, the possibility of discovering living beings on another planet is increasing even though we have no certainty, but only hope and probability.

For the moment, we are grateful for these probabilities, awaiting the day that it will undoubtedly confirm that we and our planet do not represent the only life-assembling complex of this huge universe. But to host life, a heavenly body must give it certain conditions. (Here, it seems that we still need to expand our ideas a little, because we tend to believe that any living thing on another planet must be made up just like the living things on Earth, not necessarily like them, but be the same at the molecular level. If one of the great scientific discoveries of recent years – bacteria capable of using arsenic instead of phosphorus – is confirmed – that means that our perspective on what is living must change.

And then, it is possible that some planets with attributes that today seem inappropriate to become more interesting in the future in the light of our changed concepts.) But, by the way, all people, at all times, think about the ideas of their time, so let us also thank ourselves to the contemporary ideas regarding what life means and the conditions that a planet must fulfil for that the miracle of life should appear there and perpetuate.

Extraterrestrial life could develop into Enceladus’s hidden oceans

The first observations of Saturn’s satellite were made in 2005 when hydrothermal jets were detected for the first time. Now, there may be the answer that raises the chances of alien life.

“From where Enceladus has the energy to support the phenomenon has always been a mystery to us,” said astrobiologist Gael Choblet of Nantes University in France.

“I have now considered with greater detail how the structure and composition of the solid core can play a key role in generating the necessary energy,” he added.

This diagram illustrates the possible interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus based on a gravity investigation by NASA's Cassini spacecraft and NASA's Deep Space Network, reported in April 2014.

It is estimated that the ice thickness is 25 kilometres, but only one kilometre around the southern polar region, where these hydrothermal phenomena occur. The small pieces of minerals detected in jets suggest that salts and silica dust are formed by the interaction of water that can reach up to 90 degrees Celsius with the rocks of the Enceladus satellite. For this interaction to take place, there must be space in the core for water to coexist, so the core must be porous.

“Whatever the mineralogical composition of the core, it must contain water,” Choblet explained, “maybe 20-30% water.”

In the new simulations, the team found that the tides generated by the orbit around Saturn can heat the water inside Enceladus due to the frictional force produced as the liquid circulates through rock fragments. When the water rises in temperature (reaching up to 90 degrees in the orange sections in the image below), it rises through the porous core through the ocean to the surface in the form of jets.

Saturn's moon Enceladus has 'all of the basic requirements for life as we know it', claims NASA

Previous studies state that this heat would have been from radioactive material, but if that was the case, the process would have provided the heat needed to emerge the jets for several million years, so somehow the radioactive material would have appeared recently on Enceladus. The new theory offers a more plausible explanation, with a phenomenon that takes place over a longer period. What’s most interesting is that the warm water, the long time and the chemical composition found on Enceladus are key elements in the emergence of life. Thus, this study can be the basis for the search for extraterrestrial life.

Scientists have found evidence of complex organic molecules on Saturn’s satellite

Using mass spectrometry data collected by NASA’s Cassini probe, scientists have found that large organic carbon molecules are ejected through the cracks on the frozen surface of Enceladus, one of the many natural satellites of the giant gas giant, Saturn. Researchers at the Southwest Research Institute, who discovered the presence of these molecules, believe that the chemical reactions between the solid core of the satellite and the warm water in the ocean under ice are responsible for these complex compounds, Phys.

“Once again, we are amazed by Enceladus. Previously, we identified only the simplest organic molecules containing a few carbon atoms, but even those were very interesting, “said Christopher Glein, a scholar and co-author of the work recently published in Nature.

“Now we have found organic molecules with masses of over 200 atomic mass units. These are ten times heavier than methane. With complex molecules emanating from the liquid water of the ocean, this satellite is the only body besides the Earth that simultaneously meets all the necessities of life as we know it. ”

“Even after its end, Cassini continues to teach us about Enceladus’s potential in astrobiology,” Glein added.

View of Enceladus's orbit from the side, showing Enceladus in relation to Saturn's E ring

During the flight, near Enceladus, on October 28, 2015, with the help of the INMS (Neutral Mass Spectrometer) instrument, molecular hydrogen could be detected when the ship passed through a jet. Previous studies have already shown that the satellite has an ocean under the ice layer and above the solid core. The molecular hydrogen jet is probably formed by the geochemical reactions between water and rocks in hydrothermal environments.

“Hydrogen provides a source of chemical energy that supports microbes living in the Earth’s oceans near hydrothermal springs,” said Hunter Waite, the scientist who heads the team at INMS and co-author of the new study. ”

Once you have identified a potential source of food for microbes, the next question is about the nature of complex organic compounds in the ocean. This work is the first step in that understanding of the complexity of organic chemistry beyond our expectations. ”

“Also, the findings in this study have important significance for explorations of the next generation,” Glein added. “A future ship can fly through the jet to analyze these complex organic molecules using a high-resolution mass spectrometer to help us determine exactly how to form them.”

Year after year, benefiting from advances in exploration technology, astronomers discover more planets that seem to be “good for life.” Let us understand: we do not necessarily speak of “good for us”, that is, good to live on, but some that offer similar conditions – identical – to those on Earth, conditions that could allow them to live there beings, adapted to those conditions. And on Earth, there are many places where people do not live, but they live enough life forms, some with a very original metabolism. And some creatures on the Earth can withstand almost unimaginable harsh conditions. If experts will persuade those who decide the money destination to provide funds for the preparation of such a mission, Enceladus could become the next star on alien life searches. He deserves it, say “his admirers”, because he has a lot to offer – he has qualities that can feed hope much more than the planet Mars, the one that “consumes” currently the funds for the research of the profile.

Well, what can I say? Let’s be healthy to take the time when the world explodes the news that the space mission to Enceladus has found signs of biological activity there, undeniable evidence that there is what we have been looking for decades – life-forms living on another heavenly body from our solar system.


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