Key idea: “We could build a spacecraft… and send it to Enceladus to answer the question: is this habitable place actually inhabited or not?”
Original author and publication date: Becky Ferreira (Vice) – June 14, 2023
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: Enceladus is habitable. Good to know. But, will earth remain habitable?
From the article:
Scientists have discovered high levels of phosphorus in the ocean spray of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, marking the first time that this essential ingredient for life has ever been detected in extraterrestrial seawater, reports a new study.
The breakthrough reveals that Enceladus is stocked with all right materials to support life as we know it, and hints that phosphorus may be present in other possible ocean worlds far from Earth, such as Neptune’s moon Triton or the dwarf planet Pluto. At this point, nobody knows if any of these places are actually inhabited by aliens, but the new results bolster the evidence that habitable conditions may be common in the solar system, and possibly beyond it.
Enceladus is a tiny ice world that measures about 300 miles across, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with its tantalizing subsurface ocean. Though its marine environment is hidden under the moon’s icy shell, plumes of seawater erupt into space from geysers on the surface. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which ended its mission in 2017, was fortuitously able to scoop up some of this frozen moon juice during its final years in orbit around Saturn, offering an unprecedented look at the contents of an extraterrestrial ocean.
Now, researchers led by Frank Postberg, a planetary scientist at Freie Universität Berlin, have discovered abundant supplies of phosphorus salts, known as sodium phosphates, in ice grains captured by Cassini from Saturn’s outer E-ring, which is primarily fed by the wellspring of Enceladus’ plumes. Moreover, the team found that phosphate concentrations are 100 times higher in Enceladus’ ocean than in Earth’s marine habitats, suggesting that there is no shortage of this key element in the moon’s subsurface sea.
“Enceladus was already considered a pretty habitable place before this,” Postberg said in a call with Motherboard.
“The conditions in the ocean seem to be good for life. There are very likely hydrothermal vent systems at the bottom of the ocean that would be an energy source, so you don’t need sunlight. There is a rich variety of organic compounds we detected previously in the ice and vapor that is emitted in the plume.”
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