Scientists have been searching for life beyond Earth on all kinds of planets from Mars to Saturn, and they have been long-viewing one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus. Recently, evidence that proved that Enceladus might have everything necessary for life to form was found. Enceladus is also described as one of the most promising places to search for life beyond Earth. Data collected by NASA’s spacecraft Cassini, which orbited Saturn and its satellites between 2004 and 2017, further showed that Enceladus does indeed have all the elements necessary for it to be habitable.
Enceladus first caught the attention of scientists in 2005 when plumes of ice grains and water vapor were seen rising through the cracks of the moon’s ice shell and releasing into space. Later on, it was found that Enceladus had an ocean beneath said shell. Cassini flew through the plumes and its discovered data suggests that the plumes contain organic compounds, some of which are key for life to occur. “We didn’t find life or even something that was created by life,” said Frank Postberg, a professor of planetary sciences at the Freie Universität Berlin in Germany who led the research. “We have just found signs of something that indicates that life could form there pretty good. It is just a habitability indicator, and a very good and important one,” he added.
The global ocean under the moon’s surface has a source of chemical energy that could be useful for any microbes that exist in Enceladus. The finding also provides further evidence that warm water full of minerals was pouring into the ocean from the vents in the seafloor. On Earth, such hydrothermal vents support certain communities in complete isolation from sunlight. This is just one of many examples where the conditions on Enceladus correspond to a continuing condition on Earth. These circumstances would allow people from Earth to adapt easily and integrate themselves freely into Enceladus. The icy moon now seems to have all three ingredients scientists think life needs, which are liquid water, a source of energy like sunlight or chemical energy and the right chemical ingredients such as hydrogen, phosphore, carbon etc. but does containing the essential ingredients for life ensure life on Saturn?
Hunter Waite who is Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer Team Lead in the Southwest Research Institute expressed his opinions on the matter as “This is just the final step that shows that there's molecular hydrogen being produced by these same hydrothermal processes. And that molecular hydrogen has the chemical energy to support microbial systems in the interior ocean. It's not demonstration of finding life, but it shows the potential for the existence of life in this interior ocean.”
Unfortunately Cassini is unable to detect if there is any ongoing life on Enceladus but if life is there it might mean that life is common throughout the area. On the contrary, if there are no signs of life it shows that life beyond Earth is probably harder and more complicated than we we wished it would be. In any case, finding out if life on Enceladus is probable or not would be of huge importance to scientists and to future generations. Hopefully, future missions will provide us further data on whether this icy moon is habitable or not.
Euronews, Satürn’ün Uydusu Enceladus’ta Yaşamı Destekleyecek Yeni Kanıtlar Bulundu, Accessed 18 Dec. 2023
CNN, Life May Have Everything it Needs to Exist on Saturn’s Moon Enceladus, Accessed 19 Dec. 2023
Space.com, Phosphorus Found On Saturn’s Moon Enceladus, Accessed 20 Dec. 2023
Science NASA, Ingredients for Life on Enceladus, Accessed 20 Dec. 2023