Spaceflight Insider

NASA Video: Saturn moon Enceladus has ingredients for life

An artist's illustration of Enceladus' ice plumes, which Cassini flew threw on its deepest-ever dive through them Oct. 28, 2015. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An artist’s illustration of Enceladus’ ice plumes, which Cassini flew through on its deepest-ever dive through them on Oct. 28, 2015. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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 website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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