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April 13, 2017
After orbiting Saturn for 13 years, the Cassini probe has found hydrogen in the watery plumes of Enceladus. The hydrogen, likely produced by hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean could be a potential source of chemical energy for microbes that may be living in Enceladus’s waters.
Earth’s own deep oceans harbor microbes that thrive not on sunlight but on chemical energy, leading the Cassini team to believe that even moons far away from the Sun, like Enceladus, might also be able to support microbes.
NASA scientists say Enceladus has almost all the ingredients to support life as we know it. While microbes or other organisms haven’t been found on Enceladus, geochemical data suggests it’s a distinct possibility. The Cassini team hopes that future research will allow them to detect extraterrestrial life.
Is there life on Enceladus, the ice-covered ocean moon of Saturn?
For the last several years, NASA’s Cassini probe and the Hubble Space Telescope have been scouring the world for clues. We probably won’t learn the answer today, but it’s likely that the agency will reveal more about the conditions beneath the moon’s icy surface. NASA is holding a press conference at 2 pm EDT to discuss “new discoveries” about extraterrestrial oceans.
After entering into the space around Saturn, Cassini buzzed Enceladus 22 times, the last of which occurred on December 21, 2015. Since then, it’s been monitoring the moon as it continues to gather more data on Saturn.
The Cassini team has planned a dramatic end to the probe’s mission, sending it spiraling ever closer to the ringed planet until it plunges into the gas giant’s atmosphere. If all goes well, the spacecraft’s final days will play out in early and mid-September and reveal even more about the sixth planet from the Sun.
NOVA will be live at JPL in California on April 26 and 27 as the Cassini team begins the final stage of the probe’s mission. And watch for NOVA’s upcoming special on Cassini, Saturn, and its moons.