Astronomers Find Habitable Zone in Saturn’s Moon

Apr 14, 2017 03:14 PM EDT

Life on Saturn? Maybe not, but one of its moons, Enceladus, seems to be potentially habitable.

According to a report from Phys Org, scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) discovered hydrogen erupting from the surface of Enceladus. The team suggests that this phenomenon is a chemical effect of interactions between the rocky core and warm water from the underground ocean of the moon.

It shows similarities to Earth's hydrothermal vents, which supports microbial life on the ocean floor through the chemical energy from hydrogen.

"Our results indicate the same chemical energy source is present in the ocean of Enceladus," Dr. Hunter Waite from SwRI explained. "We have not found evidence of the presence of microbial life in the ocean of Enceladus, but the discovery of hydrogen gas and the evidence for ongoing hydrothermal activity offer a tantalizing suggestion that habitable conditions could exist beneath the moon's icy crust."

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SwRI's Dr Christopher Glein, who is a co-author in the recent study, added that the molecular hydrogen found in Enceladus is enough to support microbes similar to the ones found in the hydrothermal vents on Earth. These organisms could be the foundation of a larger ecosystem in Saturn's moon.

It was during Cassini's flyby of Enceladus in 2015 that the Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) detected molecular hydrogen as the spacecraft flew through a plume of vapor ejected from the moon's surface. Water, ice, traces of methane, salts and other carbon compounds were found as well as silicates and hydrogen, according to a report from The Guardian.

"This finding does not mean that life exists there, but it makes life more plausible and potentially quite abundant if a fraction of the hydrogen is used to drive biology," Jeffrey Kargel, a professor at the University of Arizona, told The Guardian.

The study is published in the journal Science.

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