Saturn’s moon Enceladus has all the elements of life

Enceladus soon went from being just another small moon of Saturn to main area To answer the big question: Are we alone in the universe? Nobody believes that Enceladus could be home to sentient creatures, but if it hosts microbes, it would be strong evidence that life is abundant and that if given a chance it will “find a way”.

takes wide Variety of items To keep man alive, every living thing on Earth needs only five: hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous. The fact that Enceladus has an extension ocean of liquid water – and some of them escape into space – It is the first thing that caught the attention of astrobiologists of the young moon, so we know that the first two items on the list are abundant.

ammonia and methane Ice in the Moon’s plumes confirms the presence of nitrogen and carbon in Enceladus’ interior, and molecular hydrogen indicates the presence of bioavailable energy. However, doubts have been raised about phosphorous. Although other life paths could exist, without phosphorous, the odds of organisms self-replicating would be much lower. Fortunately, a research paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that phosphorous deficiency is unlikely to be a problem.

“In the years since NASA’s Cassini spacecraft visited the Saturn system, we have been repeatedly surprised by discoveries made possible by the data collected,” Dr. Christopher Glenn From the Southwest Research Institute in A statement.

Although we knew about Europa inner circumference Much taller than Enceladus, we know more about the formation of Saturn’s moon than Jupiter. This is because we have a chance to study the column emitted by Enceladus heaters. “What we’ve learned is that the shaft contains nearly all of the basic requirements for life as we know it,” Glenn said. Phosphorous is the exception, with no direct evidence of its existence.

Future sensitive missions to test for the presence of phosphorous are elusive, so Glenn and co-authors sought a less direct path to prove its presence.

Enceladus is not liquid all the way through. We know from its density that it contains hard corewhich contains all the abundant elements in the universe, including phosphorous. The paper models the interactions between the core and the ocean above to determine whether phosphate minerals in the rocks will be released into the ocean. They found that temperature, pressure, and acidity were appropriate to make the phosphate particularly soluble, mostly in the form of orthophosphate (PO).43−).

Phosphorous from Enceladus’ core must be dissolved into its surroundings to support life. Image credit: Southwest Research Institute

“Basic geochemistry has an elegant simplicity that makes the presence of dissolved phosphorous inevitable, reaching levels close to or even higher than those found in modern seawater on Earth,” Glenn said.

This does not necessarily mean that Enceladus is inhabited, but it is likely that it is habitable; We can probably plant it if we want to. So the absence indicates that it is not easy for life to appear, and its existence is not inevitable in suitable worlds.

Glenn is unequivocal: “We need to go back to Enceladus to see if there is actually a habitable ocean inhabited.”

The paper was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.