In Search For Life, NASA Finds Two 'Ocean Worlds'

The first two have been detected on Enceladus before, but the new discovery means that all three key components are there, with the addition of a fuel source for keeping that life alive.

Enceladus is the sixth largest moon of Saturn.

While the new evidence from Enceladus is compelling, in the webcast press briefing, NASA scientists said they now think they are still more likely to find life on Jupiter's moon Europa. The spacecraft detected chemicals in plumes of gas and ice that burst from Enceladus. In September, Cassini will end a 13-year mission exploring Saturn and its entourage of 62 known moons.

Voytek said her money is still on Europa for potential life, versus Enceladus, since Europa is much older and any potential life there has had more time to emerge.

NASA said Enceladus has "almost all of the ingredients needed to support life as we know it on Earth", but admitted they found no living organisms. Such a chemical reaction produces methane as a byproduct, and forms the root of Earth's own tree of life.

Scientists still have a lot of work to do; a lot of data to analyze, but this discovery is huge since it opens the possibility of life in our Solar system. From that pass and previous observations using the Cassini's Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) instrument - which basically acts like a chemical nose to sniffs gases - the instrument found that the plumes contain about 98 percent water, one percent hydrogen and that the final percent consisted of a mixture of other molecules including carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia.

The next step will be to send a life-finding mission to Enceladus. "It would be like a candy store for microbes", stated Hunter Waite, lead Cassini researcher.




"Most of us would be excited with any life, and certainly when we're talking about the sources of energy, this is to feed the base of a food web".

"With this research we are making a big step forward to answering the question is there life out there", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington, said during the press conference.

The necessary ingredients for life as we know it include liquid water, energy sources and chemicals such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus.

The moon is now thought to be one of the best potential locations of alien habitats within our solar system, the United States led team have said.

Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter that is also believed to have an ocean, may have water-vapor jets spewing into space as well, similar to Enceladus. The Europa Clipper mission is set to launch to Europa in the 2020s. The Hubble Space Telescope has observed what looks to be plumes, or long clouds, coming from Europa.

"We're pushing the frontiers", said Jim Green, director of Planetary Science Division at NASA.

Europa is one of Jupiter's moons and has an icy crust over a salty liquid water ocean which has double the quantity of water in Earth's seas.

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