With its striped surface and impressive plumes, Saturn’s bright little moon Enceladus is a dynamic place to search for life.
Like Europa, Enceladus is also an icy world with a global ocean beneath its crust, scientists believe. But Europa’s gravity keeps its plumes closer to the surface, while Enceladus’ plumes rise in massive columns that continuously generate a field of ice particles around the moon and even contribute to one of the rings of Saturn.
Observing Saturn in 2005, the Cassini spacecraft spotted plumes of icy water and gas exploding at 800 miles per hour (1,287.5 kilometers per hour) through hot cracks in the ice crust, called “scratches”. of a tiger”.
The detection of molecular hydrogen in one of Enceladus’ plumes was one of the highlights of Cassini’s closest flyby of the moon in 2015. According to scientists, molecular hydrogen forms as a result of the interaction between water and rocks when in a hydrothermal environment.
Earlier detection of complex organic molecules in the plumes further suggested that the moon could support life as we know it. Enceladus probably has hydrothermal vents that expel hot, mineral-rich water into the subterranean ocean.
Amino acids are the building blocks of life. Organic compounds are the byproduct of the reactions that create amino acids. In Earth’s oceans, vents on the ocean floor create ideal conditions for these reactions to occur. Researchers believe this same process could be taking place on Enceldaus.
Measurements of methane, molecular hydrogen and carbon dioxide in the global ocean show that this body of water has the chemical energy for microbes to produce methane – if there are any microbes.