CHICAGO — The last key ingredient for life has been discovered on Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus.
Phosphorus is an essential building block of life, used to build DNA and RNA.Now, an analysis of data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows that Enceladus’ subsurface ocean contains vital nutrientsNot only that, planetary scientist Yasuhito Sekine reported Dec. 14 at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union that the concentrations there could be thousands of times higher than in Earth’s oceans.
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Sekine of Tokyo Institute of Technology says this fundamental element may also be present on many other icy worlds, raising hope in the search for alien life.
“We know that Enceladus has most of the elements necessary for life as we know it — carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur,” said Morgan Cable, an astrobiologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. . Not participate in research. “Now [phosphorus] Confirmed… Enceladus now appears to meet all the criteria for a habitable ocean. “
Many researchers consider Enceladus to be one of the most likely places to host alien life. This is a world wrapped in ice, salt water ocean hidden below (Serial Number: 11/6/17). Not to mention, the 2005 Cassini spacecraft observed geysers Eruptions of steam and ice particles from Enceladus’ icy shell (Serial Number: 8/23/05). In this space spray, scientists detected organic molecule.
But until now, researchers weren’t sure if phosphorus was also present on Enceladus. On the Earth’s surface, this element is relatively scarce. Most phosphorus is locked up in minerals, and its availability generally controls the rate at which life multiplies.
So Sekine and colleagues analyzed chemical data collected by the now-defunct Cassini mission on particles in Saturn’s E ring, the halo of material that surrounds Saturn ejected by jets from Enceladus.
The researchers found that some ice grains in the E ring are rich in a phosphorus compound called sodium phosphate. They estimate that a kilogram of water in Enceladus’ ocean contains about 1 to 20 millimoles of phosphate, a concentration thousands of times higher than in Earth’s vast blue ocean.
At the bottom of Enceladus’ subsurface ocean, the phosphate likely came from a reaction between seawater and a phosphate-containing mineral called apatite, which was then ejected into space by geysers, Sekine said.Apatite is commonly found in carbonaceous chondritesa primitive planet-building material (Serial Number: 7/14/17).
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But that’s not all. Many other icy ocean worlds may also contain apatite, Sekine said. Likewise, they may also carry high concentrations of phosphate in the ocean. This abundance would be a boon to any potential extraterrestrials.
While the findings are promising, they also raise an obvious conundrum, Sekine said. “If life exists [on] Enceladus, why [does] Such [an] Is there an abundance of chemical energy and nutrients left? After all, on Earth, any available phosphorus is quickly removed by life.
There may be no life on the moon at all, Sekine said. But there is another, more promising explanation. Life on frigid Enceladus may just be consuming nutrients at a slow rate, he said.