The hydrogen found in the icy plumes erupting from the moon's surface have nearly all the necessary ingredients to support life on Earth, said Linda Spilker, one of the scientists working with the unmanned Cassini mission, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, said at a press conference. Enceladus is known as "ocean world" due to the global ocean that lies beneath its icy crust.
The paper published by the Cassini researchers indicate "hydrogen gas, which could potentially provide a chemical energy source for life, is pouring into the subsurface ocean of Enceladus from hydrothermal activity on the seafloor", NASA wrote in a press release.
This chemical reaction, known as "metanogenesis", is a form of anaerobic respiration and is one of the steps in the development of life on Earth billions of years ago.
But that's what a team of scientists from NASA thinks, following new findings gathered by the Cassini probe.
One ingredient found that led to the groundbreaking theory is hydrogen gas, which is abundantly spewed from a plume.
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A liquid ocean exists beneath the icy surface of Enceladus, which is barely 300 miles (500 kilometers) across.
"This distant moon now joins Mars and Europa as the best potential locations for life beyond Earth in our solar system", said Andrew Coates, a professor of physics at University College London.
"These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA's science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not", he said in a statement.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, called Saturn's moon Enceladus "the closest we've come" to identifying a planet with the necessary ingredients for a habitable planet.
Sunlight doesn't reach all hydrothermal vents here on our planet yet despite the lack of light, it's not uncommon to find a thriving community of life near such vents.
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Scientists at the Goddard Space Center compared ultraviolet photos the Hubble space telescope took of Europa in 2014, when it first saw the gaseous spray emanating from the moon, and found it again in a 2016 picture.
As per reports, Cassini is not able to detect life, and has found no evidence that Enceladus is inhabited.
Like Enceladus, Jupiter's moon Europa also has ocean plumes erupting.
The energy can be obtained from the combination of hydrogen and carbon dioxide dissolved in water. The Europa Clipper mission is set to launch to Europa in the 2020s.
"Most of us would be excited with any life", Voytek said.
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