Scientists have studied NASA's data on Saturn's moon Enceladus and its ocean and they've discovered that the basic ingredients for life are present in these waters.
Enceladus is covered in an icy layer. The ocean beneath its icy surface is bursting out plumes of liquid water into space. It is from these spurts of water that the scientists discovered organic compounds.
These compounds contain oxygen and nitrogen — crucial in amino acid production — that are the key players in creating proteins. It's thanks to proteins that life on Earth exists.
Ocean on Enceladus
Scientists had suspected that Enceladus' waters may contain the right ingredients to create life.
Enceladus has water bursting out of its icy layer and into space and NASA scientists studied the chemical compounds the water contains. They discovered oxygen and nitrogen in the water. This is the first instance where these have been detected in the water.
NASA used their Cassini spacecraft to sense the water plumes.
This is an incredible discovery, as it means that these compounds could undergo deep-sea chemical reactions. In turn, these reactions could create amino acids.
Oh that's cool: More organic molecules, including the precursors of amino acids, found in the warm (possibly habitable?) ocean inside Saturn's moon Enceladus. https://t.co/aM19VRKumE pic.twitter.com/wVL1AbF8Sp— Corey S. Powell (@coreyspowell) October 2, 2019
Co-author of the study, Frank Postberg, said in a press release: "This work shows that Enceladus' ocean has reactive building blocks in abundance, and it's another green light in the investigation of the habitability of Enceladus."
The scientists believe that Enceladus' ocean may operate much in the same way as our Earth's oceans. "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," said Nozair Khawaja, who led the research team behind the latest discovery.
Khawaja continued, "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."
The findings were published on Wednesday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.