Another life in our solar system?

NASA/JPL-CALTECH HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

A handout photo released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on 13 March 2017 shows an enhanced-color view of of the 'Cassini' probe towards the southern latitudes on Saturn moon Enceladus featureing bluish 'tiger stripe' fractures that rip across the south polar region. NASA on 13 April 2017 confirmed the discovery of hydrogen in the icy plumes erupting from Enceladus' surface. The plumes contain the necessary ingredients to support life and the confirmation of this 'chemical energy for life existing within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth', Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA?s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said. The Cassini probe, a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency ESA and Italy's ASI space agency, has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. New ocean world discoveries from the Cassini probe and the Hubble space telescope will help inform future exploration and the broader search for life beyond Earth, NASA said in a corresponding media release.

Another life in our solar system?


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Extra-terrestrial life may be closer to us than originally thought, beneath the ice-crusted moon of Enceladus, that is, Saturn’s moon.

That is a seven years’ travel, with the 1990s technology.

Enceladus is a relatively tiny 500km-world has been recently explored by Cassini, a NASA spacecraft that has spent 12 years around the ringed exploring the moons around the ringed planet. The spacecraft was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2007. Since, it has been exploring Saturn and its world, including Enceladus.

The findings announced on Thursday are a scientific milestone.

Beneath the ice surface of the Enceladus, there is a deep ocean, whose water Cassini has now sampled. The chemical analysis suggests the seafloor of the ocean has hot fluid vents that keep the ocean liquid, warm, and hospitable to life. That is not a certainty that there is life, but what is now certain is that the ocean is habitable and has all the elements of life.

The chemical elements found on Enceladus, when combined on earth, suggest life is around. When water, certain organic molecules, and a source of energy combine, life can be generated. Water is established and organic molecules too. What the Cassini mission did was also to establish that there is a source of energy.

Energy comes from a chemical process called serpentinization, that is, the interaction between rocks rich in iron and magnesium that releases hydrogen. That byproduct can sustain life. Hydrogen has been found. Moreover, there is carbon dioxide in the sample, which suggests a process known as methanogenesis is at play, which is linked to microbic life.

There are now three planets that have hosted, are hosting, or could in the future host life: Mars, Europa, and Enceladus.

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