Signs of Life Found on Saturn’s Moon?
Scientists have found complex carbon-based molecules in the waters of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Compounds like this have only previously been found on Earth, and in some meteorites.
They are thought to have formed in reactions between water and warm rock at the base of the moon’s subsurface ocean. Though not a sign of life, their presence suggests Enceladus could play host to living organisms.
“This is the first ever detection of such complex organics coming from an extraterrestrial water-world,” said study author Dr Frank Postberg. On Earth, these molecules are usually biologically created, but this does not have to be the case.
“They are a necessary precursor to life,” says Dr Postberg, “[but] we currently cannot tell if these organics are biologically irrelevant or signs of prebiotic chemistry or even life.”
Life really only needs liquid water, energy, organics (compounds containing carbon) and a group of particular elements (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur).
“The next logical step,” says Dr Postberg, “is to go back to Enceladus soon with a dedicated payload and see if there is extraterrestrial life.”