Astronomers say that traces of phosphorus have been detected in the salty ice grains found on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Last month, scientists reported that the massive plume seen rising from Enceladus may be crucial in finding life outside of Earth. Now that we’ve discovered this key building block of life on the moon, though, that outcome seems even more likely.
According to the new reports, the chemical was found in the grains of salty ice that were recently released into space by the plumes I mentioned above. The plumes are releasing materials from the cracks of the ice that covers the surface of the moon. Under that ice shell is another ocean, which could contain even more life-building blocks.
Scientists involved in the new research utilized data taken from NASA’s Cassini mission, which studied Saturn in-depth between 2004 and 2017. During that time, the mission also looked closely at the planet’s moons, of which there are many. A study on the discovery of phosphorus on Enceladus can be found in the journal Nature.
The researchers say that phosphorus plays a vital role in all life on Earth. It is essential to the production of DNA, ATP and RNA. Life as we know would be impossible without phosphorus. This discovery is even more fascinating because it is the first time that we’ve discovered phosphorus outside of Earth. The discovery of phosphorus in Enceladus was a major breakthrough.
The belief here is that the oceans beneath the surface of Enceladus could be habitable to life in some form. Most likely, these lifeforms will be microorganisms, although the search for intelligent alien life does not depend on finding them. Finding microorganisms in another planet’s or moon’s oceans would represent a major breakthrough in space exploration.
Perhaps future missions to Saturn and its moons could help uncover additional details about how much phosphorus is found in the oceans of Enceladus.
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