What has the Cassini spacecraft discovered about Saturn?

Saturn’s moon now satisfies what is usually considered the strictest requirement for life

The search for extraterrestrial life is now more serious than probably ever before. And the search just got more exciting with a team of scientists discovering new evidence that the subsurface ocean of Enceladus – Saturn’s moon- contains a key building block for life phosphorus.

The Cassini spacecraft explored Saturn and its system of rings and moons for more than 13 years. Based on data obtained from this mission, the research team directly found phosphorus in the form of phosphates originating from the ice-covered global ocean on the moon. The results were published in the journal Nature in June.

Our fate and phosphates

In the form of phosphates, phosphorus is necessary for all life on Earth. Be it the creation of DNA and RNA, or the bones and teeth in animals and human beings, life as it is today is impossible without phosphates.

Once the Cassini spacecraft discovered the subsurface liquid water on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, it then analysed samples of ice grains and gases erupting from cracks on Enceladus’ surface. When salt-rich ice grains were analysed by Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer, it showed the presence of sodium phosphates.

Life beyond Earth

The team’s observational results along with laboratory analogue experiments thus suggest that phosphorus is readily available in Enceladus as phosphates. This makes the discovery a major step forward in the search for life beyond our own Earth.

While worlds like our Earth with surface oceans have to reside in a narrow range of distances from their host stars (to maintain temperatures that support surface water), interior ocean worlds can occur over a large range of distances. This is true within our solar system and beyond. The presence of phosphates in Enceladus thereby increases the number of habitable worlds potentially possible across the galaxy.

Picture Credit : Google 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *