The idea that the Earth is not the only world that hosts life and that other living beings may exist somewhere else in the universe has been captivating human minds for centuries.
After finding water on Mars, this idea has become more real than ever. Numerous hypotheses and theories provide various arguments in favor of the existence of extraterrestrial life, yet, no conclusive proof has been found. Now, a new scientific discovery gives us new hopes that alien life may exist right next door.
An international team of astronomers have detected hydrothermal activity on Enceladus, the icy moon of Saturn. This means that Enceladus has the conditions suitable for the formation of life.
In fact, scientists consider the ice-covered moons of our giant neighbors from the outer solar system to be some of the most favorable places to host life. Thus, a 2011 study found that Jupiter’s moon Europa contains a huge ocean under its surface, which makes it a world that could potentially harbor life.
Enceladus is the sixth largest moon of the gas giant Saturn and has the diameter of approximately 310 miles. It is located about 887 million miles away from the Sun and 790 million miles from Earth.
Back in 2014, NASA’s Cassini probe found evidence that the Saturn’s moon had a huge subsurface ocean of liquid water in the region of its southern pole. There are plumes of gas in that area, and in October 2015, the Cassini probe took a deep dive into these plumes in order to examine the composition of the gas cloud.
The results were exciting: the chemical reactions under the Enceladus’ surface involved hydrogen and carbon dioxide, which basically means that the conditions on Saturn’s moon are suitable for the existence of microbes! In fact, the presence of both hydrogen and carbon dioxide allows for the process called methanogenesis, or the formation of methane, which is consumed by anaerobic microorganisms that survive without oxygen and sunlight deep down in the oceans on our planet.
In the paper published in the journal Science, the researchers write that hydrogen could possibly be a product of chemical reactions between warm water and rocks of the Enceladus’ core.
While this discovery is breathtaking, it doesn’t confirm that there is life on Enceladus but only indicates that the conditions on Saturn’s moon are suitable for hosting life.
Prof David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at the Open University, told the Telegraph:
“We do now have the last piece of evidence needed to demonstrate that life is possible there. This is life that needs neither oxygen nor sunlight, and may be the form in which life on Earth began, before some of it adapted to other conditions.”
Now, we are curious to see the further studies of the data collected by the Cassini probe. Who knows, maybe the next mission will send to the Earth the evidence of the actual existence of microorganisms on Enceladus.
To learn more details about the exciting discovery, watch the video below: