December 9, 2023

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New results confirm the possibility of life on Saturn’s oceanic moon Enceladus

New results confirm the possibility of life on Saturn’s oceanic moon Enceladus

New results confirm the possibility of life on Saturn’s oceanic moon EnceladusSource: NASA, ESA, JPL, SSI, Cassini imaging team.

New research based on a reinterpretation of data from NASA’s Cassini mission, which studied Saturn and its moons between 1997 and 2017, strengthens the idea that Enceladus contains the chemicals needed for life: although the concentration and arrangement of the elements appears different from what was seen. On Earth, researchers believe that life on Saturn’s moon may have found another way to rearrange its chemical environments and still thrive.


The results of a new study, recently published in BioRxiv, led by scientist Daniel Muratore, from the Santa Fe Institute in the United States, give new impetus to the idea that Enceladus, Saturn’s moon, has a vast ocean beneath an ice layer, which could It contains some form of extraterrestrial life. Focusing on the discovery of ammonia and inorganic phosphorus, the researchers believe that the chemical elements found on Enceladus could have found a way to regulate, different from those known on Earth, and create bases for some forms of microbial life.

Life support items

according to condition Most of what we know about Enceladus and its ice-covered ocean comes from Universe Today NASA Cassini missionWhich explored the Saturn system between 1997 and 2017. However, scientists are still working with the data obtained by this mission, and reinterpreting it based on new technologies and theories that emerge over time. In this case, Muratore and his team confirm once again that Enceladus possesses the chemicals necessary for life.

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It is worth noting that, based on the discovery of geyser-like water plumes flowing through the ice sheet of Enceladus, Cassini performed a close flyby in 2008 and analyzed these plumes using an instrument called the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA, according to the abbreviation). CDA showed that the water in the columns contained… An amazing mixture of volatile materials, including carbon dioxide, water vapor and carbon monoxide. Traces of molecular nitrogen, simple hydrocarbons and complex organic chemicals were also found.

In this case, the researchers responsible for the new study relied on their finding Ammonia and inorganic phosphorus in it Space ocean. Scientists used ecological and metabolic theories and models to understand how these chemicals could make Enceladus habitable. According to specialists, this new approach could provide a powerful “lens” for assessing whether extraterrestrial environments are compatible with living ecosystems, whether on Enceladus or in other contexts.

This figure shows a cross-section of Enceladus: Oxidants produced on the ice surface, when water molecules are broken down by radiation, can combine with reducers produced by hydrothermal activity and other water-rock interactions, creating a potential energy source for life in the ocean.

A biosphere with an unknown chemical order?

The essence of the results is that scientists discovered that although phosphorus is present in high levels in the vicinity of Enceladus, the total amount can be limited to cells similar to those found in organisms on Earth. However, elevated reserves of these nutrients can be consistent with A “A small or slow-metabolizing biosphere”Any biosphere with a recent origin for life is chemically organized in a way different from what we know on our planet, but can still support life.

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In other words, it means it Life could have found another way to develop on Enceladus, reorganizing chemical environments in a way we do not yet fully understand. Nature has created a great variety of worlds, each with its own chemistry: and as our understanding of the habitability of cosmic environments gradually increases, perhaps in the coming years we will be able to identify these new blueprints and confirm The existence of life On Enceladus and other points in the universe.


Observations of the elemental composition of Enceladus are consistent with generalized models of theoretical ecosystems. Daniel Muratori et al. Biorexiv (2023). doi: