Saturn Moon Might Be Capable Of Supporting Life
By: Karen Valenzuela (@VictoriaNoir89)
Space nerds, rejoice!
One of Saturn’s moons might be able to support life, NASA scientists have found through the chemical tests done by Cassini, a research spacecraft that specifically studies Saturn, its rings, and its moons.
The moon Enceladus was discovered to have plumes of gas that erupt from its icy surface, beneath which exists an ocean. Cassini took samples of the sub-surface waters of that ocean and it was discovered to have hydrogen.
The existence of hydrogen in Enceladus’ sub-surface ocean means there could by hydrothermal chemical reactions like those we know exist in hot fissures on the seafloors of some of our Earth’s oceans. These fluid vents at the bottom of our oceans are teeming with life, mostly microbials. And while this discovery does not absolutely one hundred percent mean Enceladus’ seafloors have exterrestrial microbials flitting about in the way Earth’s seafloors do, this is a major discovery, and perhaps a large step towards further research that might prove once and for all the existence of alien life on other planets.
Scientists think Enceladus’ sub-surface ocean is many kilometers deep. Saturn causes a gravitational squeeze on the moon, which produces enough heat to keep the water under the moon’s icy surface liquid. Microbes frequent the seafloor fluid vents on our planet to specifically seek out hydrogen, which is a byproduct they use to boost their metabolism and give them energy. It’s almost like how humans wait in long lines at coffee shops early in the morning before work.
It isn’t a stretch to wonder if Enceladus’ fluid vents contain that energy-gifting hydrogen that would draw organisms that live on the moon. If the plumes from Enceladus do not contain life and are instead sterile, this is still an important discovery for scientists. Dr. Hunter Waite from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio told BBC News, “If there is no life there, why not? And if there is, all the better. But you certainly want to ask the question because it’s almost as equally as interesting if there is no life there, given the conditions.”
NASA’s Cassini has been conducting research on Saturn for 13 years now. But there is an end in site for Cassini. NASA is planning the spacecraft’s last mission – a trip around the planet and inside of its rings for 22 orbits before it finally crashes into Saturn’s atmosphere. This last journey will last from April to September.