Life could exist or could have formerly existed on Saturn’s sixth-largest moon Enceladus, scientists say.
The pH level of Enceladus, which reveals the amount of water acidity -- a key parameter to understanding geochemical processes taking place inside the moon – can be tolerated by a few living organisms on planet Earth, a group of scientists said in a study published in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.
The research found that the oceans of the moon are probably salty with a pH basis of 11 or 12, showing the celestial body’s potential for acquiring and hosting living organisms
The pH of Enceladus’ oceans was determined via data, gathered by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, based on a new chemical model of gases in a geyser-like plume emitting from the moon. The model was based on mass spectrometry data of ice grains and gases from the plume.
A diagram, based on NASA Cassini spacecraft observations, illustrating the possible interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus, including the ocean and plumes in the south polar region (NASA/JPL-Caltech Photo)
“Knowledge of the pH improves our understanding of geochemical processes in Enceladus’ ‘soda ocean,’” lead author Christopher Glein explained.
A geochemical process, called serpentinization, is the reason behind the high pH in the moon, Glein said.
"This process is central to the emerging science of astrobiology, because molecular hydrogen can both drive the formation of organic compounds like amino acids that may lead to the origin of life, and serve as food for microbial life such as methane-producing organisms," added Glein.
"As such, serpentinization provides a link between geological processes and biological processes. The discovery of serpentinization makes Enceladus an even more promising candidate for a separate genesis of life."
Based on previous research, scientists believe that Enceladus is one of the best places in our solar system that may support alien life due to its high geological activity and the possibility of finding liquid water underneath the icy surface of the moon.