Scientists Find Building Of Life On Saturn’s Moon Enceladus!

Exploring Enceladus: Unraveling the Mysteries of Saturn’s Moon, Organic Compounds, and the Fascinating Potential for Extraterrestrial Life

Video of the day December 14th 2019

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The moons of Saturn have been known to hold many secrets, and one of them seems to be the building blocks of life! But what does it mean? Join me as we explore what we found on the moon known as Enceladus.

What Was Found On Enceladus

Before we talk about the compounds of life that were found on there, we need to talk a little about Enceladus itself and where the compounds were found. Because while Enceladus looks like just another icy moon on the surface, scientists have proven that there is an ocean of sorts beneath the surface. It’s not an ocean like we think of our world, but it is an ocean of liquid, and it’s beneath the crust of the moon. Which is interesting for many reasons but that’s for another list.

What’s more, this ocean actually shoots plumes of water into the air like a geyser. These plumes can ever reach outer space, which should give you a reference to the height we’re talking about here.

It was within these plumes that the “building blocks of life were found”. But what exactly does that mean?  Well, like they stated, it’s PART of what makes life possible. It’s NOT full-on life, because if they found life on any scale on Enceladus I promise you this list would be about a whole other topic and we’d be even more excited for what they found.

Still though, what they found is pretty cool, and that’s to be appreciated.

“The Building Blocks Of Life”

Ok, we’ll stop beating around the bush, “What exactly did they find?” That would be organic compounds. Again, don’t get the wrong idea, this isn’t life, but it’s one of the things that make life possible. How so? Well, these compounds have things like Nitrogen and Oxygen in them, which can lead to the creation of Amino Acids…which can lead to proteins…which are essential for life to exist. These organic compounds were found within the plumes shot out by the planet, confirming many theories about whether Enceladus might have had life within it or on it at one time.

To clarify, people haven’t stated that Enceladus had life, but rather, they felt that with this water and the ocean it’s within, it had the POTENTIAL for life. Not unlike how Earth had to go through many transformations (and extinction-level events) before it was capable of making life as we know it now.

Going back to the theories, this wasn’t a random belief either. Many scans and data analysis of Enceladus noted that on the surface were similar organic compounds, meaning that life COULD be possible on the moon. But with this recent analysis, it was those very compounds found dissolved in water. Which means that somehow they got from the surface of the moon to the oceans underneath it.

This means multiple things, including that the organic compounds of the moon are more spread out than previously believed. Others also see it as an opportunity for expansion:

“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,” Frank Postberg who helped make the study noted.

The Similarities Between Enceladus and Earth

Ok, before we talk about colonizing Enceladus, I’m sure some of you are still confused about why these organic compounds are getting such buzz from scientists. I mean, they’re just compounds of life, they still have to work their magic to become life, right? Exactly right, emphatically right in fact. But that’s just it, this kind of thing has been seen before, and it’s from a place you’re familiar with…Earth. And no, I’m not talking about the birth of all life on Earth, but something a bit more recent and close to home. Mainly, the birth of life in hydrothermal vents.

For those who don’t know what those are, these vents are special things that are born at the bottom of oceans. In this case, water mixes with magma from the Earths core (that makes its way up to the ocean floor via cracks) and they make vents that can push out jets of water so hot that they can reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit. More than enough to kill…well just about any human and most life in the oceans. HOWEVER, it is in these vents that one of the curious miracles of life occurs. Because within these vents, organic compounds laced with Hydrogen (another building-block of life) are made, and they stack on each other to become amino acids…which become proteins…and from that comes life. Life that latches on to these vents and sucks the nutrients out of them to survive.

It’s a weird thing, as nothing should survive those temperatures, but because of how they were born, they’re basically immune to it. What’s more, this is one of the rare cases of a new form of life being made without sunlight. Which the moon of Enceladus wouldn’t be able to use because of distances and the waters being under the moons crust.

This is why the scientists are so excited, because they see the potential and the similarities, and wonder what it could mean if they’re right:

“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,” Nozair Khawaja, who led the research team behind the latest discovery, said in a release. “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 Advancements Of The Compounds

Another reason that scientists are so excited about what they found on Enceladus is that there was a point where they believed that the organic compounds wouldn’t be able to become anything. Remember when I said they had found these compounds on the surface of the moon before? Well that was true, but their analysis stated that the ones they found were NOT water soluble, which means that if they could dissolve in the water, they wouldn’t be able to mix with the vents that made the geysers…and then wouldn’t potentially make life like there is in our oceans.

But now, that’s changed, new compounds have been found, they are water soluble, and that means they could be like the ones we find on Earth, which means a lot of interesting things to a lot of people.

“Here we are finding smaller and soluble organic building blocks – potential precursors for amino acids and other ingredients required for life on Earth,” Jon Hillier, another co-author of the study said in a statement.

If you’re curious as to when and how we got the data which showed these organic compounds existing, that would be the Cassini Space Probe. Its mission was to study many things, including Saturn and its moons. In fact, it spent 13 YEARS doing just that, and it helped NASA and other scientists learn more and more about the ringed planet.

Oh, and when the probe was “done” with its mission? The team at NASA actually crashed it into Saturn to destroy it so that they didn’t hurt the moons. Hurt them how? Well, some of them, like Enceladus, had potential life blocks on it, crashing the probe onto the moons may have affected that. So they just let the planet do the dirty work.

So What Now With Enceladus?

That is the question, isn’t it? What do we do with a moon that we now believe holds the power of life within it? It’s not the easiest of questions to answer, but I’ll do my best. First and foremost, the teams at NASA and other agencies are going to study the data and see what else can be found. It was the recent study that determined what was being found in the water plumes, so imagine what can be found in a few more looks over the data?

Then, the moon will be studied further, and arguably more intensely than ever before. Because if there is even a small chance (which we already have you could argue) that life COULD be on this moon right now, then we’re going to want to try and find it. Even if it’s the smallest of microorganisms like we have in the vents in the oceans of Earth.

As they’re doing that, they’re no doubt also going to look for what’s going on with the other moons of Saturn. Saturn has 82 moons (20 of which were discovered recently…), and several moons have shown promise in terms of not just habitability, but the potential for life. So if we’re just learning about the organic compounds on Enceladus, imagine what we might find in terms of the other moons?

In short, this discovery, and advancement on previous discoveries, means a whole lot to a lot of people. It could open up all sorts of doors and avenues…as well as lock-in a landing point for humanity in the future.

Humanity On Enceladus?

As noted earlier, there are some who are already drooling over the fact that the moon Enceladus not only could have life on it, but also be a place where humanity could live on. At present, this is a bit of a stretch because the moon has an icy layer to it. But, if the ocean of water underneath the moons icy crust is everything that we hope it to be, then the options are there.

How so? Well, think of it like this. The reason we’re going to Mars in terms of our first true planet habitation event is because not just of distance, but because there is water that we can use via the polar ice caps and even the mud and clay that has been found on the surface. Without it, Mars wouldn’t be habitable in the long-term sense.

With Enceladus, if the water can be used safely by humanity, the it already has a massive advantage over all the other prospects in our solar system. Because all we’d have to do is drill down through the surface, and harness the water. Something humanity already knows how to do via our time on Earth.

Granted, there are other factors to consider, like atmosphere, heat, energy and more, but water is almost always the sticking point in terms of where we want to colonize. Plus, if there’s potential life on Enceladus, there are going to be people who want to go there and study it.

Is it feasible to setup a colony on Enceladus? At present, no. It’d take WAY too long to get there, and resupply missions would be troublesome at best. However, it is possible, and there are others out there who think that living on a moon of Saturn is already our best option…

Humanity On Titan

At present, there are scientists and NASA not only thinking about planets humans can live on, but also, moons, and one of the biggest “candidates” in terms of moons we can live on is the Saturn moon called Titan. e talked about in this post.

In terms of size, Titan is bigger than you might think. It is the largest moon that orbits Saturn, and it is bigger than our moon and even the planet Mercury. That beings said, it’s only 40% the size of Earth, so that would be a small problem.

However, what it lacks in space, it makes up for in gasses and hydrocarbons. Specifically, liquid hydrocarbons, which has many scientists thinking that this is a great place to go because the amounts of liquid hydrocarbons that they’re seeing on Titan is greater than that of the entirety of Earth:

“Titan is just covered in carbon-bearing material—it’s a giant factory of organic chemicals”, said Ralph Lorenz, who leads the study of Titan based on radar data from Cassini. “This vast carbon inventory is an important window into the geology and climate history of Titan.”

Just to give you an image of what you can expect by that statement, there are literal seas and lakes filled with methane, ethane and other liquid hydrocarbons. Some have even been measured to be bigger than the Great Lakes in the United States.

And since Carbon is an important part of life as a whole, that means we would be able to use the gas deposits to help fuel our culture…whatever we put there that is. And that’s only the start of the reasons why Titan could work.

The other big reason is the atmosphere, mainly, Titan has one, and since it has one, it means that things would be easier to do on Titan than on various moons that don’t have an atmosphere. Furthermore, while not perfectly like ours, Titans atmosphere has compounds that are in ours like Oxygen, Nitrogen, Methane, Hydrogen, etc.

There are some flaws in the plan to colonize Titan. Distance, just like with Enceladus, is a problem, the gravity of Titan is also much less than Earths, but, it’s a big potential landing spot. And we need that more than you think.

To The Moons!

Saturn continues to be a planet that fascinates us here on Earth. Between the recent findings of its new moons (and who knows what they hold in store for us?), to the various studies on the rings of Saturn (including showing that they could be dissolving at a much faster rate) and now the finding of more organic compounds on Enceladus, it has a lot to offer.

Which, is why there are more and more probes, and satellites and even a nuclear helicopter (I kid you not) being built to do more and more tests and studies on the planet and its moons. The goal is to learn more, search for more (not unlike the Mars Rovers) and get more data for NASA and scientists back home.

Could humanity make it to those moons one day? Yeah, we probably can, it’s just a matter of when, and what our goals will be when we get there.

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