The following is an excerpt from AFP.com | April 13, 2017 |
An ice-encrusted moon orbiting Saturn appears to have the conditions necessary for life, NASA announced Thursday, unveiling new findings made by its unmanned Cassini spacecraft.
Cassini has detected hydrogen molecules in vapor plumes emanating from cracks in the surface of Enceladus, a small ocean moon coated in a thick layer of ice, the US space agency said.
The plumes have led scientists to infer that hydrothermal chemical reactions between the moon's rocky core and its ocean -- located under the ice crust -- are likely occurring on Enceladus.
On Earth, those chemical reactions allow microbes to flourish in hot cracks in the planet's ocean floors -- depths sunlight cannot reach -- meaning the moon could also nourish life.
"Now, Enceladus is high on the list in the solar system for showing habitable conditions," said Hunter Waite, one of the study's leading researchers.
The new research, published Thursday in the journal Science, "indicates there is chemical potential to support microbial systems," he said.
The hydrogen detection resulted from Cassini's October 2015 deep dive close to the surface of Enceladus.
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