Until now, the subterranean oceans of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, were thought to be harsh and utterly unsuitable for life.
But now, a closer look reveals that the oceans likely have a similar temperature, salt content, and acidity as our oceans here on Earth. Those factors, plus high concentrations of organic gases, lead scientists to believe that the oceans might harbor microbial life, according to a University of Washington press release. Though no signs of life have been spotted, the research suggests that Enceladus could be one of the best places outside of Earth to look for it.
The mixup happened when NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flew by last year and analyzed the chemical content of oceanic plumes that rocketed hundreds of miles into outer space.
But a new study, which will be presented at the astrobiology conference AbSciCon on Monday, reveals that the oceans have a different chemical composition from the plumes, suggesting that the initial research was based on an inaccurate read of the conditions on the moon.
It turns out the oceans are likely full of gases like, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane, all of which contribute to terrestrial life. They would give any microbes that might live there a “free lunch,” says Lucas Fifer, the scientist who led the research.
“Although there are exceptions, most life on Earth functions best living in or consuming water with near-neutral pH, so similar conditions on Enceladus could be encouraging,” he said.
READ MORE: Abundance of gases in Enceladus’s ocean are a potential fuel — if life is there to consume it [University of Washington newsroom]
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