NASA finds key ingredient for life at Saturn’s moon Enceladus

Researchers have discovered hydrogen cyanide (HCN) at Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus while analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini mission.

The hydrogen cyanide molecule is a key ingredient for the origin of life and is needed to form amino acids.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured water sprays from Enceladus
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured water sprays from Enceladus on November 30, 2010. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

Enceladus is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, which contains subsurface ocean beneath its outer shell, and the most amazing fact is that it sprays subsurface ocean water from huge fissures out into space.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft first observed the jets erupting from Enceladus, and its Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) has identified water, carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrogen within the jets of ejected material. NASA’s Cassini mission ended in 2017.

However, the new statistical analysis found many organic compounds like hydrogen cyanide, acetylene, propene, and ethane, which suggests that there are many chemical pathways to potentially sustain life in Enceladus’ subsurface ocean.

The lead author of the investigation, Jonah Peter, a doctoral student at Harvard University, said in a statement, “Our work provides further evidence that Enceladus is host to some of the most important molecules for both creating the building blocks of life and for sustaining that life through metabolic reactions.”

The new result was published in Nature Astronomy on Thursday, December 14, 2023 which suggests that there are much more chemical energy in the form of several organic compounds in Enceladus’ subsurface ocean than previously thought. The more energy available, the more likely life is to expand and survive.

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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