NASA scientists find evidence of ‘key ingredient for life’ on one of Saturn’s moons


A new study spearheaded by NASA scientists discovered that there is “evidence of a key ingredient for life” on one of Saturn’s moons — meaning that the moon likely meets the basic requirements for habitability.

The findings were published Thursday in the Nature Astronomy journal using data researchers collected from NASA’s Cassini mission. The researchers ultimately found that there is “strong confirmation” that hydrogen cyanide was present on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Hydrogen cyanide is one of the essential molecules in forming amino acids, which are one of the most basic ingredients in life.

Lead author Jonah Peter, a doctoral student at Harvard University, said that the findings showed that Enceladus appears “to meet the basic requirements for habitability.” He also said that researchers now have a better grasp of how “complex biomolecules” could form on the moon.

“Our work provides further evidence that Enceladus is host to some of the most important molecules for both creating the building blocks of life and for sustaining that life through metabolic reactions,” Peter said.

The findings also showed that there may be more chemical energy in the oceans of Enceladus than what was previously believed. This could provide fuel for living organisms, according to the researchers.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which published a summary of the findings, noted that researchers previously found evidence of methanogenesis in Enceladus’s plume of ice grains and water in 2017. Methanogenesis is a process that creates methane, which the laboratory noted “may have been critical to the origin of life on our planet.”

Kevin Hand, co-author of the study and principal investigator at the laboratory, said the research suggested that Enceladus’s ocean could provide a “large amount” of energy to any possible life on the moon. 

“If methanogenesis is like a small watch battery, in terms of energy, then our results suggest the ocean of Enceladus might offer something more akin to a car battery, capable of providing a large amount of energy to any life that might be present,” Hand said in the summary.

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