For decades scientists around the world have been fascinated by the idea of finding life somewhere else in the universe, and now they might have found a place which they believe could harbor life.
Earlier in July, NASA announced that it had found the best clue yet about life elsewhere in the universe. NASA and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Cassini-Huygens spacecraft collected evidence for a potential home for life on a moon of Saturn called Enceladus.
Commonly known as the ice moon, Enceladus is totally covered in ice and snow and for long has fascinated space scientists. Underneath the icy shell, and above the rocky core, Enceladus has an ocean of liquid water. The ice on the surface of the moon has large cracks through which the ocean is leaking and spewing water vapor geysers into space, all of which has been a source of great fascination for scientists and people alike.
The spacecraft Cassini-Huygens flew through those geysers and sampled their chemical makeup, which indicates that there could be some form of a microbial activity going on at the bottom of the Enceladus Ocean. A study of the chemical makeup revealed that these plumes not only contained hydrogen but also a high concentration of methane, which is considered a very strong by-product of life and quite frequently associated with the hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the Earth’s oceans.
What Are Hydrothermal Vents?
When the cold water at the bottom of the ocean seeps through the rocks into the ocean floor passing around heat sources such as magma/lava, it leads to the formation of minerals & gases that are then spewed out in the water through hydrothermal vents. Microorganisms such as bacteria at the bottom of the ocean consume the dihydrogen produced in these gases as their source of energy, a process known as chemosynthesis, creating methane & carbon dioxide as a by-product. These bacteria are then consumed by clams, shrimps & crabs, thus creating an entire ecosystem in the darkness. Scientists have a strong reason to believe that if it is happening on the earth, it could be happening on the Saturn moon too.
Scientists Suggest Gases Come From Hydrothermal Activity by Extra Terrestrial Microbes
Researchers from the University of Arizona and Paris Sciences et Lettres University published a research paper in Nature Astronomy suggesting that the high concentration of methane in the plumes could literally mean microbial activity.
“We wanted to know: Could Earth-like microbes that ‘eat’ the dihydrogen and produce methane explain the surprisingly large amount of methane detected by Cassini?” said Regis Ferriere, an associate professor at the University of Arizona and the co-author of the study.
He further added that searching for such microbes, known as methanogens, at Enceladus’ seafloor would require extremely challenging deep-dive missions that are not in sight for several decades.
In their research, the scientists also constructed mathematical models & carried out computer simulations to study if the amount of methane found in the geysers actually suggested there was indeed some sort of microbial activity going on in the ocean of Enceladus.
“Obviously, we are not concluding that life exists in Enceladus’ ocean. Rather, we wanted to understand how likely it would be that Enceladus’ hydrothermal vents could be habitable to Earth-like microorganisms,” Ferriere concluded.
9 Other Places That May Support Life:
For decades, NASA has been launching space missions to find life elsewhere in the universe and has in fact concluded that in addition to Enceladus, the moon of Saturn, there are 9 other icy worlds that may support life. Scientists have been particularly excited about Europa, the moon of Jupiter, which is also covered in ice and has cracks on the surface spewing plumes out into the space, all of which appears to be exactly the same phenomenon that is happening at Enceladus.
If these ice worlds literally have these hydrothermal vents then it is likely that there could be marine communities where life could exist within this solar system and in order to confirm it scientists need to go back there and hunt in depth.