(VitalNews.org) – NASA scientists believe they have discovered signs of life on one of Saturn’s moons.
Enceladus, the sixth-largest of Saturn’s 146 moons, has been shown to have phosphates dissolved in the water of its ocean. This finding, made by NASA’s now-retired spacecraft Cassini, is of vital importance, as phosphate is a crucial building material for life as we know it. It is found in DNA, RNA, and even in cell membranes.
The Cassini mission spanned the thirteen-year period of 2004 to 2017, using this time to carefully examine the gas giant planet and its multitude of orbiting moons. The spacecraft flew through gas plumes thrown up from Saturn and analyzed organic compounds and minerals necessary for life to exist.
Enceladus, like many other moons and planets, has an icy outer crust that conceals a liquid ocean underneath, unlike planets such as Earth, which has its ocean on its surface. Planets like Earth are greatly constrained by the need to be a certain distance from their star in order to maintain the right conditions for the surface ocean and all the life it supports.
Worlds with oceans under an ice layer, or interior ocean worlds, however, are less hampered by such constraints. This means that there is likely to be a great many more of them across the galaxy than surface ocean planets, which vastly increases the number of potentially habitable planets.
Dr. Christopher Glein is a member of the team that led this research into Saturn and its moons. He spoke of the phosphate concentration in its water plumes being much higher than that of our ocean water, which gives a strong indication of the existence of life.
The extra-terrestrial oceanographer added that the next thing to do would be to get back to Enceladus and search out evidence of actual habitation. This will require a new spacecraft, however, as Cassini was “retired” from service at the end of its mission. Instead of a retirement party, it was allowed to de-orbit, thus burning and breaking into tiny fragments in Saturn’s atmosphere.
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