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Saturn’s moon Enceladus could have conditions for life

A recent Cassini Spacecraft image of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, backlit by the sun, showing the fountain-like sources of the fine spray of material that towers over the south polar region (black and white image, left, colorized image of same, right). The image shows Jets of fine, icy particles streaming from Enceladus, providing unambiguous visual evidence that the moon is geologically active. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The Cassini Spacecraft was launched on 15 October 1997 and has been providing information on Saturn since July 2004. EFE

Washington, Apr 13 (EFE).- NASA on Thursday confirmed the discovery of hydrogen on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, a circumstance that could mean there are living organisms there.

The hydrogen found in the icy plumes erupting from the moon’s surface have almost all the necessary ingredients to support life on Earth, said Linda Spilker, one of the scientists working with the unmanned Cassini mission, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, said at a press conference.

The paper by researchers with the Cassini mission, published Thursday in Science magazine, says that the hydrogen gas – which could potentially provide a source of chemical energy for the existence of life – is found in Enceladus’ frozen ocean.

The presence of hydrogen in the ocean on this moon of Saturn means that microbes – if they exist there – could use it to obtain energy by combining it with carbon dioxide dissolved in the water there, scientists said.

Ilustración de la NASA cedida hoy, jueves 13 de abril de 2017, que muestra cómo los científicos de la sonda espacial internacional Cassini piensan que el agua interactúa con el lecho rocoso del océano helado de Encélado, produciendo hidrógeno (H2). La NASA confirmó hoy el descubrimiento de hidrógeno en Encélado, una de las lunas de Saturno, lo que podría significar la existencia de microorganismos, y la observación de géiseres emanando de Europa, una de las lunas de Júpiter, una señal de actividad hidrotermal en su interior. EFE

This chemical reaction, known as “metanogenesis,” is a form of anaerobic respiration and is one of the steps in the development of life on Earth billions of years ago.

This is the closest scientists have come to identifying a place having the ingredients for life, said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate.

The Cassini probe – a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and Italy’s ASI space agency – will now undergo a course correction to enable it to study Saturn’s rings before being plunged into the gas giant’s atmosphere in September, ending its 13-year mission to explore the distant planet and its 62 known moons.

The moon Enceladus is just 502 kilometers (311 miles) in diameter and has an icy surface, a rocky interior and an ocean of liquid water sandwiched between the two.

Molecular hydrogen was detected in the ice plumes erupting from the moon’s surface in October 2015 when Cassini passed through the plumes, skimming just 49 kilometers (30 miles) above the moon’s surface collecting samples.

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