Building Blocks of Life Found on Saturn Moon

March 30, 2008 08:18 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Exploratory spacecraft Cassini found carbon-based molecules in water vapor over Saturn’s moon Enceladus, raising the possibility that life could exist there.

30-Second Summary

Along with the presence of water vapor, Cassini identified methane and other simple organic compounds in a cloud emitted from a geyser on Enceladus’ surface.

NASA points out that combined with heat, such as that found in the geyser, the environment inside of the moon is similar to the conditions under which anaerobic bacteria thrive on Earth.

The Enceladus geysers themselves are a new discovery. Until Cassini sent images showing otherwise, astronomers thought the moon was barren. “This is the type of thing scientists who study the solar system really live for,” said Torrence Johnson, a Cassini mission scientist.

In reference to the “primordial soup” theory applied to the genesis of life on Earth, NASA says that Enceladus could “serve up a suitable prebiotic soup.”

However, there are other hypotheses about the origin of life. For instance, panspermia is the theory that life arose from an extraterrestrial object, such as a meteorite or a comet, that showered Earth with organic material. According to Beloit College astronomy professor Britt Scharringhausen, “Most astronomers find panspermia to be improbable, but not necessarily impossible.”

Headline Link: ‘Organic Matter Found on Moon of Saturn’

Background: Cassini-Huygens

Opinion & Analysis: The possibility of extraterrestrial origins of life on Earth

Reference: The Cassini-Huygens project and extraterrestrial organic compounds

Related Topics: ‘Methane Gas Detected on Distant Planet’


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