A mysterious moon orbiting Saturn could hold the key to the question of whether alien life exists in our solar system.
NASA scientists have just stumbled upon something big on a moon that orbits Saturn, and it could result in a huge breakthrough in our search for alien life. Scientists have found hydrothermal vents on the moon Enceladus, the same kind of hydrothermal vents found here on Earth and which scientists believe were the breeding grounds of life on our planet.
Enceladus is a frozen wasteland, but deep underneath its icy crusts are subterranean oceans. While it’s not likely to host sentient life, Enceladus could host some form of microbial alien life, and that alone would be a tremendous breakthrough.
Scientists with NASA’s Cassini mission determined that the plume they found was favorable to methanogenesis, which is when microbes gobble up hydrogen and carbon and then emit methane. And Enceladus appears to have molecular hydrogen in its ice plumes, suggesting the existence of hydrothermal vents.
“Hydrogen is a source of chemical energy for microbes that live in the Earth’s oceans near hydrothermal vents,” said SwRI’s Dr. Hunter Waite, principal investigator of Cassini’s Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS). “Our results indicate the same chemical energy source is present in the ocean of Enceladus. 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.”
“The amount of molecular hydrogen we detected is high enough to support microbes similar to those that live near hydrothermal vents on Earth,” said SwRI’s Dr. Christopher Glein, a co-author on the paper and a pioneer of extraterrestrial chemical oceanography. “If similar organisms are present in Enceladus, they could ‘burn’ the hydrogen to obtain energy for chemosynthesis, which could conceivably serve as a foundation for a larger ecosystem.”