Scientists have discovered the ‘building blocks’ for life on Saturn moon Enceladus

File photo: Saturn’s ocean-bearing moon Enceladus taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2016. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/handout via REUTERS

Scientists have discovered that the “building blocks” for life on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, the discovery of complex organic molecules, according to a study published this week.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature, is based on data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, prior to plunging into Saturn’s atmosphere, ending the mission on Sept. 15, 2017.

“It is the very first detection of complex organic substances from an alien water-world,” said Frank Postberg, lead author of the study, in a statement on the European Space Agency’s website.


“Limiting the data of the macromolecular structure of organic compounds detected in the ice cream, cereals, and suggest that the presence of a thin organic-rich film at the top of the oceanic water table, where the organic nucleation cores generated by the bursting of bubbles allows the detection of Enceladus’ biological stock in larger concentrations,” the study reads.

Postberg and the rest of the researchers have identified large organic molecules fragments in ice grains that were spewed out of the geysers on Enceladus.

“We have a large molecular fragments, which show structures typical for very complex organic molecules,” added Nozair Khawaja, who also worked on the study, in the statement. “These large molecules contain a complex network, often consisting of hundreds of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and probably nitrogen in the form of ring-shaped and chain-like structures.”

This is not the first time that Cassini has detected organic molecules on Enceladus, the newly discovered are significantly larger than the previous discoveries, Reuters reported.

Cassini was launched in 1997 at a total cost of $3.9 billion ($2.5 billion in the pre-launch costs and $1.4 billion in post-launch) and he spent 13 years cycling, studying and taking data on Saturn and its moons, including Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

Enceladus is already mentioned as a possible host for the support of life, including by NASA, last year. In April 2017, NASA announced that the moon can live, thanks to the presence of hydrogen is detected.


Enceladus, which is known as an “ocean-world,” may bear some similarities with the Earth, that would pave the way for life.

In the earth’s oceans, organic matter from the deeper waters can accumulate on the walls of the rising air bubbles travel to the surface and then spread when the bubble bursts. Scientists think that something similar might happen on Saturn moon.

The outcome of the research, while exciting, is not concrete to prove that there is life on Enceladus, but it is possible, when the complex molecules are combined with liquid water and hydrothermal activity.

“In my eyes are the fragments that we finding are of hydrothermal origin, which is processed in the hydrothermally active core of Enceladus: in the high pressure and the warm temperatures, we expect that there is, is it possible that complex organic molecules could arise,” said Postberg.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

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