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  1. ITV Report

Spray from Saturn's moon suggests it could support life

Water samples taken from an icy moon orbiting Saturn have indicated that it could support alien lifeforms, scientists have announced.

Samples of spray coming off Enceladus have proved that it has three of the four conditions thought to be necessary to support life.

The results suggested that its salty ocean could potentially harbour microbes similar to those which flourish in the Earth's hydrothermal vents.

The moon is now thought to be one of the best potential locations of alien habitats within our solar system, the US led team have said.

David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at the Open University, said: "Life has not been discovered on Enceladus, but we do now have the last piece of evidence needed to demonstrate that life is possible there."

Fellow academic Professor Andrew Coates from University College London said the data was a "remarkable result".

We know that the four requirements for life as we know it are liquid water, the right chemistry, a source of energy and enough time for life to develop.

But now, we know that three of the four conditions are there on Enceladus - and this distant moon now joins Mars and Europa as the best potential locations for life beyond Earth in our solar system.

– Professor Andrew Coates

The scientific team analysed water samples taken by Nasa's Cassini space probe on a mission in 2015.

Tests revealed the presence of both molecular hydrogen and carbon dioxide, two of the most basic ingredients for life.

Microbes process both to obtain energy in a process known as methanogenesis.

Hydrogen levels were also high enough to imply the planet produces a continual source and may host hydrothermal activity under its icy surface.

Lead scientist Dr Hunter Waite said the result showed the moon's environment would be "like a candy store for microbes" with a constant and plentiful food source.

Analysis has shown the water plumes coming off the moon mainly consist of tiny particles of water ice, with traces of methane, ammonia,carbon dioxide, salts, and simple organic molecules.

Silica nanoparticles were also detected, indicating a hot rocky interior reacting chemically with alkaline water.

Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said: "Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth."