Alien life in our Solar System? Study hints at Saturn's moon

Saturn's moon, the icy orb known as Enceladus, may boast ideal living conditions for single-celled microorganisms known as archa
Saturn's moon, the icy orb known as Enceladus, may boast ideal living conditions for single-celled microorganisms known as archaeans, according to a new study

Humanity may need look no further than our own Solar System in the search for alien life, researchers probing one of Saturn's moons said Tuesday.

The icy orb known as Enceladus may boast ideal living conditions for single-celled microorganisms known as archaeans found in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, they reported in the science journal Nature Communications.

A methanogenic (methane-producing) archaean called Methanothermococcus okinawensis thrived in laboratory conditions mimicking those thought to exist on Saturn's satellite, the team said.

On Earth, this type of archaean is found at very hot temperatures near deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and converts and hydrogen gas into methane.

Traces of methane were previously detected in vapour emanating from cracks in Enceladus' surface.

"We conclude that some of the CH4 (methane) detected in the plume of Enceladus might, in principle, be produced by methanogens," the researchers in Germany and Austria wrote.

They also calculated that sufficient hydrogen to support such microbes could be produced by geochemical processes in Enceladus' rocky core.

The authors had set out to test the hypothesis that conditions on the satellite may be good for hosting methanogenic archaea.

Previous research has suggested that Enceladus sports an ocean of liquid water—a key ingredient for life—beneath its icy surface
Previous research has suggested that Enceladus sports an ocean of liquid water—a key ingredient for life—beneath its icy surface

The data, based purely on laboratory study, showed this "could be" so, said Simon Rittmann of the University of Vienna who co-authored the scientific paper.

But the results provide "no evidence for possible extraterrestrial life," he underlined to AFP.

"Our study only concerns microorganisms. I would like to avoid any speculation about intelligent life," he said.

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun, separated from Earth only by Mars and Jupiter.

It has dozens of moons.

Previous research suggested that Enceladus sports an ocean of liquid water—a key ingredient for life—beneath its icy surface.

The moon is also thought to contain compounds such as methane, carbon dioxide, and ammonia, and its south pole sports hydrothermal activity—a combination of traits that makes it a key target in the search for extra-terrestrial life.

Further research is needed to exclude the possibility that Enceladus' may come from non-biological, geochemical processes, the authors said.


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Journal information: Nature Communications

© 2018 AFP

Citation: Alien life in our Solar System? Study hints at Saturn's moon (2018, February 27) retrieved 14 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2018-02-alien-life-solar-hints-saturn.html
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Feb 27, 2018
Aliens? If they are in our Solar System, are they aliens?

Feb 27, 2018
Better yet, if Enceladus is a barren rock, can we send some bacteria there for lolz?

Feb 27, 2018
It is interesting that the article does not speculate whether if life were to be found in our Solar system whether it may be an independent evolution, because this is the key point. Further it's a long bow to draw to suggest that because an organism can 'thrive' elsewhere that it suggests that it can 'form' there.

Feb 27, 2018
All of the chatter and focus on 'colonizing Mars' is concerning. Humans are a 100 years away from any such colonization. In 15-20 years, a one-way trip or even land, explore and return trip IE: the moon missions while very satisfying to our egos and sense of adventure, produce what? We simply watch too many sci-fi movies. With little atmosphere or magnetosphere, there is just no long-term support for human life on Mars. Radiation with no magnetosphere to redirect alone over time puts the idea to rest. Instead of focusing on a fairy-tale, why not take the research funding and the tech being developed and put advanced robotics with large-scale drilling and other capability on the surface of the several candidate moons and planets that might have liquid water and some form of life? Would it not be more of a scientific accomplishment to discover alien life and further, to study it and learn more about how life forms and what the sources are than to have a picture of men on Mars?

Feb 27, 2018
Humans are a 100 years away from any such colonization.


We passed the point some time ago where it was our insufficient scientific and technological base that was holding us back from colonizing Mars. Yes, plenty of hardware still needs to be developed, but we are more than advanced enough to figure it out. Always remember that we reached the moon in 1969 with the comparatively tiny technological base that existed in the 1960's.

So if it is not our technology that is holding us back, then what is it? The answer is the same thing that always hold us back, i.e., corruption and stupidity. That fact that a 6,000 person company (SpaceX) could develop and fly the biggest rocket available today (Falcon Heavy) is a gigantic hint we could be doing a heck of a lot more than we are.

Here in the U.S. we should be seriously debating how many nuclear-powered interplanetary spacecraft we should build (at least one), not whether the criminally insane should have access to AR-15s.

Feb 27, 2018
We'll never know if they keep spending money on that orbiting white elephant, the ISS ($180 BILLION and climbing) and NOT on many more space missions. NASA has become a joke that has to beg Russians for "lifts" to that money pit as well.

Feb 28, 2018
If we come to our collective senses (don't bet on it), the ISS would be the perfect place to inspect, repair, restock and refuel spacecraft for crewed missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. To be clear, those reusable spacecraft should never touch the surface of any planet. ISS could be our Grand Central Station for access to the solar system. Reusable spacecraft returning from Mars could drop off their crews and run a few trips to the moon before being sent back to Mars every 26 months. SpaceX can deliver people and supplies to the ISS on the cheap and in bulk (Falcon Heavy). It could be an incredibly busy and necessary place if we only had the collective foresight to push forward.

Mar 05, 2018
Life below the surface of water ice? definitely possible.
But there are light anamolies on Io too

Mar 05, 2018
Life below the surface of water ice? definitely possible.
But there are light anamolies on Io too

Mar 05, 2018
Life below the surface of water ice? definitely possible.
But there are light anamolies on Io too

Mar 05, 2018
Life below the surface of water ice? definitely possible.
But there are light anamolies on Io too

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