It seems increasingly likely that the dark, ice-covered seas of Saturn’s moon Enceladus possess all the basic conditions for life. Over the past decade, scientists have established that Enceladus harbors water, heat, and the chemicals necessary for life. In the years that followed, the evidence supporting this hypothesis continued to accumulate.
Before it completed its mission by crashing into Saturn, NASA flew its
Cassini space probe through the frosted plumes of matter that spring from the cracks in the envelope of Enceladus. The probe detected large amounts of methane, which is commonly associated with life on Earth. A new study has used computer modeling to suggest that the ocean of Enceladus contains dissolved phosphorus, an essential element for sustaining life as we know it.
What we have learned is that the plume contains almost all the basic requirements of life as we know it
declared Christopher Glein of the Southwest Research Institute, who has been studying Enceladus for years. ”
While the bioessential element phosphorus has yet to be directly identified, our team has uncovered evidence of its availability in the ocean beneath the moon’s icy crust.
“. L’studyconducted by Christopher Glein and an international team of researchers has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The essential role of phosphorus
By running models with data on Enceladus’ ocean-seafloor system, the team predicted that there should be as much or more phosphorus than in seawater on Earth. ”
What this means for astrobiology is that we can be more confident than before that the ocean of Enceladus is habitable.
adds Christopher Glein.
It was previously thought that Enceladus did not have sufficient phosphorus levels to sustain life. Phosphates, in various forms, play an essential role in the formation of DNA, RNA, cell membranes and even teeth.
As scientists and astronomers continue to study ocean worlds like Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa from a distance, Christopher Glein says another important step needs to be taken as soon as possible:
We need to return to Enceladus to see if a habitable ocean is actually inhabited
“. Exactly, the
Nasa develops robots to explore the oceans of other planets.