Enceladus, revealed here in this image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, is the sixth-largest moon of Saturn. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Using mass spectrometry data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists found that large, carbon-rich organic molecules are ejected from cracks in the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Southwest Research Institute scientists think chemical reactions between the moon’s rocky core and warm water from its subsurface ocean are linked to these complex molecules.
“We are, yet again, blown away by Enceladus. Previously we’d only identified the simplest organic molecules containing a few carbon atoms, but even that was very intriguing,” said SwRI’s Dr. Christopher Glein, a space scientist specialising in extraterrestrial chemical oceanography. He is coauthor of a paper in Nature outlining this discovery. “Now we’ve found organic molecules with masses above 200 atomic mass units. That’s over ten times heavier than methane. With complex organic molecules emanating from its liquid water ocean, this moon is the only body besides Earth known to simultaneously satisfy all of the basic requirements for life as we know it.”
Prior to its deorbit in September of 2017, Cassini sampled the plume of material emerging from the subsurface of Enceladus. The Cosmic Dust Analyser (CDA) and ...