Using data collected by NASA’s late-great Cassini space probe, scientists have detected traces of complex organic molecules seeping out from Enceladus’ ice-covered ocean. It’s yet another sign that this intriguing Saturnian moon has what it takes to sustain life.
If life exists elsewhere in our Solar System, chances are it’s on Enceladus. The moon features a vast, warm subterranean ocean, one sandwiched between an icy crust and a rocky core. Previous research shows this ocean contains simple organic molecules, minerals, and molecular hydrogen—an important source of chemical energy. On Earth, hydrothermal processes near volcanic vents are known to sustain complex ecosystems, raising hopes that something similar is happening on Enceladus.
New research published today in Nature suggests Enceladus’ ocean also contains complex organic molecules—yet another sign that this moon contains the basic conditions and chemical ingredients to support life. Now, this isn’t proof that life exists on this icy moon, but it does show that Enceladus’ warm, soupy ocean is capable of producing complex and dynamic molecules, and the kinds of chemical reactions required to produce and sustain microbial life.