Scientists have turned their attention to yet another celestial body in our solar system – Enceladus – as a potential site for life outside of the Earth.
Scientists announced in a new study published in Nature that the icy moon of Saturn likely has an active hydrothermal system. That means that there is warm running water under the icy, cracked, cratered surface of this moon.
Enceladus first indicated itself a candidate for life outside of our planet when Cassini first saw plumes of water vapor bursting from its south pole in 2005. It was unclear up until now where those plumes were coming from and why.
A team of researchers led by the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric Space Physics found small grains of rock with the Cassini spacecraft that they believed were formed by the hydrothermal vents in the hidden ocean of Enceladus. The grains are rich in silicon, much like sand and quartz here on Earth, which are commonly formed in a hydrothermal process.
The paper’s authors spent four years studying the data from the Cassini spacecraft and performing computer simulations. Their conclusion?
“We methodically searched for alternative explanations for the nanosilica grains, but every new result pointed to a single, most likely origin,” says Frank Postberg in the ESA’s release on the study. Postberg is a scientist who works with Cassini’s dust analyzer data at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and is a co-author on the paper.
This news is exciting because it means Enceladus could realistically harbor life under the icy tomb of its surface. Warm water is one of the basic ingredients for life as we know it. These are exciting times.
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