Original Story: Today at 2 p.m. ET, NASA will hold a news conference announcing "new results about ocean worlds in our solar system", and more tantalizingly, "the broader search for life beyond Earth".
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected hydrogen molecules in the geysers shooting off the moon Enceladus, possibly the result of deep-sea chemical reactions between water and rock that could spark microbial life. This hydrogen can be used by microbes, to produce food by means of chemical reactions combining it with dissolved carbon dioxide.
Associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said, "This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment".
The Cassini probe - a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and Italy's ASI space agency - will now undergo a course correction to enable it to study Saturn's rings before being plunged into the gas giant's atmosphere in September, ending its 13-year mission to explore the distant planet and its 62 known moons.
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Cassini has found that nearly all of these ingredients are there on Enceladus, a tiny icy moon at a distance of a billion miles away from Saturn.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERSNASA's Cassini spacecraft is shown diving through the plume of Saturn's moon Enceladus, in 2015, in this photo illustration.
Molecular hydrogen is a vital part of Earth's oceans system, which microbes turn into methane, and this same process was found to have occurred on Enceladus as well. One form of chemical energy has been noted as being able to feed life, which appears to exist on Saturn's moon called Enceladus.
"Although we can not detect life, we have found that there is a food source there for it", said lead author of the Cassini study Hunter Waite.
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The researchers discovered that 98 percent of the gas content present in its plume is water, just one percent of it is hydrogen and the remaining one percent comprises of molecules of carbon dioxide, ammonia and methane. Despite being thousands of metres under the sea and therefore far away from sunlight, life was being sustained via the energy produced from hydrothermal activity released from the vents. Additionally, the Hubble researchers reported the "evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa".
"We keep looking and we keep finding locations within the solar system where we have growing prospects of finding microbial life", Carberry told the Herald.
Both studies are laying the foundation for the Europa Clipper mission, which is slated to launch in the 2020s.
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