Saturn moon has necessary conditions to harbor life

The water is believed to be heated by what is known as "tidal heat", a condition generated by Saturn's enormous gravitational pull as it twists and stretches the 313-mile-wide (504 kilometers) moon as it orbits the gas giant.

"For a microbiologist thinking about energy for microbes, hydrogen is like the gold coin of energy currency", said Peter Girguis, a deep sea biologist at Harvard University who was not involved in the research.

"These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA's science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not", Zurbuchen said.

The Enceladus plume Cassini flew through had traces of hydrogen, according to a paper appearing in the journal Science written by the probe's team.

The hydrogen was detected during a 2015 flyby when NASA's Cassini spacecraft raced through plumes of vapor spewing from cracks at the moon's south pole, scientists said.

Each water molecule consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

It must be emphasized that the scientists did NOT report the detection of life in Enceladus' ocean, but rather the detection of molecular hydrogen-the final piece needed to infer the presence of methanogenesis.

Russia vetoes UN resolution to condemn Syria chemical attack
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In a separate study, NASA scientists working with the Hubble telescope have revealed that they've found more evidence that another of Jupiter's moons, Europa, is spurting out watery jets of its own, giving us yet another potential spot where life might develop. As with Europa, a moon of Jupiter, this heat warms up the interior, creating an ocean with hydrothermal activity and surface fractures from which materials can escape in space.

The discovery makes Enceladus the only place - apart from Earth - where a local energy source for life has been discovered.

This chemical reaction, known as "metanogenesis", is a form of anaerobic respiration and is one of the steps in the development of life on Earth billions of years ago. When dissolved carbon dioxide reacts with dissolved hydrogen, it produces methane and water. Such chemistry is a source of energy, independent of sunlight, that feeds life in Earth's oceans, and scientists wonder whether it could do the same on Enceladus. Observations from the Galileo spacecraft was used to corroborate the Hubble findings, to show that the region was unusually warm.

A new mission will launch in the 2020s and arrive at Europa after a few years.

Discovering life on Enceladus will undoubtedly take an accumulation of new data, just as Glein suggested. However, NASA scientists suspect these two ingredients to be present on Enceladus because the moon's rocky core is thought to be chemically similar to meteorites that contain phosphorous and sulfur. This latest discovery may reactivate interest in sending a spacecraft dedicated to the study of this small (272-kilometer-radius) moon of Saturn. "We discovered that Europa's plume candidate is sitting right on the thermal anomaly", said William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

"We're pushing the frontiers", says Dr. Jim Green, a NASA planetary scientist.

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