Space & Astronomy
One of the building blocks of life has been found in the ocean of Enceladus
By T.K. Randall
June 16, 2023 · 3 comments
Saturn's moon Enceladus. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Scientists have discovered evidence of phosphorous in data previously collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
Often regarded as one of the most promising places to look for signs of extraterrestrial life, Enceladus, which is thought to be home to a vast ocean of liquid water, has remained a popular topic of study ever since NASA's two Voyager spacecraft first began to unravel its secrets.
Now, thanks to data gathered by the space agency's wildly successful Cassini spacecraft, an international team of scientists has revealed the discovery of phosphorus - one of the building blocks of life - in material ejected by geysers from deep beneath the moon's icy crust.
"We previously found that Enceladus' ocean is rich in a variety of organic compounds," said planetary scientist and study leader Frank Postberg of Freie Universitat Berlin, Germany.
"But now, this new result reveals the clear chemical signature of substantial amounts of phosphorus salts inside icy particles ejected into space by the small moon's plume."
"It's the first time this essential element has been discovered in an ocean beyond Earth."
The find adds further credence to the idea that Enceladus could be harboring a habitable ocean deep beneath its icy crust - a place where primitive alien life forms might exist even today.
Ultimately, though, only a mission to explore this unseen habitat will enable us to find out for sure.
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