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NASA says Saturn moon has 'all the ingredients needed to support life'

21 Avril 2017

NASA's Cassini spacecraft said the icy, ocean-covered body possesses ample amounts of hydrogen gas.

The production of methane is an important and widespread form of microbial metabolism and a source of energy for metabolism is one of the three primary ingredients for life as we know it to exist.

"We now know Enceladus has nearly all the ingredients that you need to support life as you know it on Earth", said Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist, during a briefing that announced the new findings.

The plumes are 98 percent water, scientists said, with traces of molecules including ammonia, carbon dioxide and methane.

This is the closest scientists have come to identifying a place having the ingredients for life, said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate. "Between there and what may exist on Europa and in subsurface water on Mars, the more we keep looking, the more tantalizing it becomes - that there may be life and there may be life in multiple locations".

On Earth, where we find water, we find life, so that's where we like to look for life in space, too. "It would be like a candy store for microbes", said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study, according to NASA. These images bolster evidence that the Europa plumes could be a real phenomenon, flaring up intermittently in the same region on the moon's surface.

An illustration of Cassini diving into Enceladus, Saturn's moon. Additionally, the Hubble researchers reported the "evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa".

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"Certainly this finding suggests that there is a significant amount of hydrothermal energy that produce such a strong signal of hydrogen, and this hydrogen is a good source of chemical energy to support life." says Voytek.

However, NASA scientists suspect these two ingredients to be present on Enceladus because the moon's rocky core is thought to be chemically similar to meteorites that contain phosphorous and sulfur.

The discovery of this chemical energy source means Enceladus is now the very best place to look for life outside of Earth, with conditions that could be just right for alien microbes to survive.

Enceladus is quite small, makes it about 15 percent as large as Earth's moon. Plus, Hubble spies a plume on Europa for the second time.

But its detectors were turned towards Jupiter's icy moon Enceladus post discovering the emission of the towering plume of icy spray in 2015.

In a press release for the briefing, NASA noted that the new results will affect the space agency's multi-billion-dollar Europa Clipper mission.

NASA says Saturn moon has 'all the ingredients needed to support life'