07:35 GMT +323 October 2019
Listen Live
    Saturn and Enceladus

    NASA Hails Major Breakthrough as New Organic Compounds Discovered on Alien Moon

    © Flickr/ Gray Lensman QX!
    Tech
    Get short URL
    by
    192
    Subscribe

    In 2017, NASA announced that alien life could exist in our own solar system, when its robotic space probe Cassini discovered the preconditions for the existence of lifeforms on one of Saturn’s moons, called Enceladus.

    New kinds of organic compounds have been discovered in plumes bursting from Saturn's moon Enceladus, in a major breakthrough for scientists, according to findings published 2 October in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    The compounds are the ingredients of amino acids, the building blocks of life, which explains why experts have hailed the findings as an "important piece of the puzzle" in the search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system.

    The current discoveries are all part of a profound ongoing study of data from NASA's Cassini mission, which wrapped up in September 2017 when the spacecraft flew into Saturn's surface.

    A model of the Cassini spacecraft is seen at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) September 13, 2017 in Pasadena, California
    © AFP 2019 / Robyn Beck
    A model of the Cassini spacecraft is seen at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) September 13, 2017 in Pasadena, California

    But before its demise, it flew through the plumes that burst out of Encaladus's surface, sending data about them back to Earth.
    This treasure trove of information is now being sifted through by experts.

    That plumes are ejected by powerful hydro-thermal vents, which spew material from the core of the moon.

    That is subsequently mixed with water and thrown out into space as water vapour and ice grains.

    The molecules were discovered in those ice grains, and were found to be nitrogen- and oxygen-bearing compounds.

    Scientists used the spacecraft's Cosmic Dust Analyzer, or CDA, to determine the composition of organic material in the grains.

    On our planet, these compounds are active in chemical reactions that can produce amino acids – a process that helped create all living things on Earth.

    The vents on Enceladus could also be helping create amino acids, sparking hopes that life may be flourishing beneath the moon's surface.

    NASA's Cassini spacecraft takes image of Saturn.
    © Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
    NASA's Cassini spacecraft takes image of Saturn.

    "If the conditions are right, these molecules coming from the deep ocean of Enceladus could be on the same reaction pathway as we see here on Earth. We don't yet know if amino acids are needed for life beyond Earth, but finding the molecules that form amino acids is an important piece of the puzzle," said Nozair Khawaja, who led the research team of the Free University of Berlin.

    During its closest ever dive past the active south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus
    © NASA . JPL-Caltech/SSI
    During its closest ever dive past the active south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus

    Enceladus has been widely considered one of the best candidates for life in our solar system, as NASA announced in 2017 that its robotic space probe, dubbed Cassini, had discovered a precondition for the existence of lifeforms on the Saturnian moon.

    The new discovery fuels excitement about the secrets its mysterious surface could be hiding.

    Related:

    Alone No More? Saturn Moon Enceladus Has Potential to Support Life
    A Fate Preordained: Cassini Flies Toward a Fiery Death in Saturn’s Atmosphere
    Cassini Spacecraft on Its Farewell Mission Into Saturn Atmosphere (VIDEO)
    NASA Confirms Hidden Ocean in Icy Saturn Moon Enceladus
    NASA Shows Off Best-Ever Photos of Saturn Moon Enceladus
    Alien Life: 'Enceladus is Not the Only Body That May Have Conditions for Life'
    Tags:
    NASA, NASA, NASA, Cassini, Cassini mission, Saturn, Saturn, Enceladus, Enceladus
    Community standardsDiscussion
    Comment via FacebookComment via Sputnik