NASA Video: Saturn moon Enceladus has ingredients for life
Using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn and the Hubble Space Telescope around Earth, scientists have determined the ringed planet’s moon Enceladus, which has a global ocean under its icy surface, has a source of chemical energy – an ingredient for life.
In fact, NASA scientists say that it likely has all three ingredients that they think are essential for life: liquid water, a source of energy, and the right chemical ingredients – such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen exist on this tiny moon orbiting Saturn.
In 2015, Cassini made a close flyby of Enceladus, enough to pass through plumes of gas and icy particles spraying from the moon’s south pole. The spacecraft’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer detected a “significant amount” of molecular hydrogen.
Within Earth’s ocean system, molecular hydrogen is a food, or energy, source for microbes. However, NASA scientists have stressed that this discovery on Enceladus is not a detection of life on the tiny moon; rather, it shows the potential for life to exist in its interior ocean.
Cassini is set to end its 13-year mission around Saturn in September when the spacecraft will be commanded to plunge into the ringed world’s atmosphere to burn up. This Grand Finale is being done because the probe is running out of fuel, and scientists want to avoid any potential for it crashing into one of the system’s moons, possibly contaminating it.
Video courtesy of JPL
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity. He met with members of the SpaceFlight Insider team during the flight of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket with the MUOS-4 satellite. Richardson joined our team shortly thereafter. His passion for space ignited when he watched Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space Oct. 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized his true calling was communicating to others about space. Since joining SpaceFlight Insider in 2015, Richardson has worked to increase the quality of our content, eventually becoming our managing editor.