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Complex organics spewing from sub-surface ocean on Enceladus

29 Jun 2018, 21:51 UTC
Complex organics spewing from sub-surface ocean on Enceladus
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The Cassini spacecraft photographed plumes of icy material erupting from the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, strong evidence for a vast sub-surface ocean. Researchers reviewing archived data now say complex organics are present in the plumes, evidence of habitability. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Archived data from NASA’s Cassini Saturn orbiter has revealed the presence of complex organic molecules spewing into space from geysers erupting through cracks in the frozen crust of the small moon Enceladus, the strongest evidence yet that a sub-surface ocean could be a habitable environment.
Frank Postberg and Nozair Khawaja, both of the University of Heidelberg in Germany, led a team that identified fragments of large organic molecules in ice grains that were released in geysers that feed material into one of Saturn’s rings. Cassini photographed those geysers and even flew through them before its mission ended last September.
“It is the first ever detection of complex organics coming from an extraterrestrial water-world,” Postberg said. Added Khawaja: “We found large molecular fragments that show structures typical for very complex organic molecules.”
“These huge molecules contain a complex network often built from hundreds of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and likely nitrogen that form ring-shaped and chain-like substructures,” ...

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