S aturn’s moon Enceladus has an ice-covered ocean; a plume of material erupts from cracks in the ice.” On the surface, that might not seem the most enthralling sentence. However, its implications are far-reaching.
A report published in the journal Science on April 13 explains that the geysers of Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, could provide bountiful food for sustaining life. Jets of ice and gas spotted by NASA at the moon’s southern pole were found to contain molecular hydrogen, a chemical characteristic of hydrothermal activity.
Here on Earth, hydrogen provides sustenance for clusters of organisms that reside around vents on the seafloor. The presence of the gas on Enceladus suggests it harbours the right conditions to allow microbial life.
A frozen moon does not immediately appear to be the ideal ecosystem to support life. However, scientists say, there are few environments so extreme as to not allow life - as long as water, organic molecules and energy are present for organisms to feast on. Enceladus appears to hold all three and as such, it’s looking like scientists’ best bet to find alien life.
The excitement might not end there. NASA also announced that another moon could share Enceladus’ assets. Images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope suggest that plumes much like those on Enceladus are also erupting from Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons and the sixth-largest in the entire solar system.
One week and two moons later, and alien life suddenly doesn’t feel so far away.