Large, carbon-rich organic molecules seem to be spewing from cracks on the surface of Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus, according to a new study of data collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The discovery means that Enceladus is the only place besides Earth known to satisfy all the requirements for life as we know it, space scientist and study co-author Christopher Glein said in a statement from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio.
So do aliens live there? It’s definitely possible, but probably not what you’re imagining.
“We cannot decide whether the origin of this complex material is biotic or not, but there is astrobiological potential,” Nozair Khawaja, a planetary scientist at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and lead author on the study, told Gizmodo. What he means is that scientists are unsure of the source of these heavy molecules, but it could be from a living organism.
Beneath its icy crust, Enceladus holds a warm, mysterious ocean that sits above a rocky core. Enormous plumes of icy vapor hundreds of miles high escape from the subsurface ocean into space through cracks in the crust. Instruments aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft grabbed samples from those plumes during the craft’s close flyby of Enceladus on Oct. 28, 2015. Cassini analyzed the samples using the Cosmic Dust Analyzer and a mass spectrometer. Researchers then reviewed the data and found the telltale signs of large, complex, carbon-rich molecules.
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