Looking for Life on the Oceans Beneath Saturn’s Moon Enceladus #SpaceSaturday
Something is producing methane in the oceans beneath the ice sheet of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn. What makes methane? Lifeforms for one. Does life, in the form of microorganisms, lurk in the cold oceans of a Saturnine moon? Here’s more form Centauri Dreams:
Microbes on Earth – methanogens – find ways to thrive around hydrothermal vents deep below the surface of the oceans, in regions deprived of sunlight but rich in the energy stored in chemical compounds. Indeed, life around ‘white smoker’ vents is rich and not limited to microbes, with dihydrogen and carbon dioxide as an energy source in a process that releases methane as a byproduct. The researchers hypothesize that similar processes are at work on Enceladus, calculating the possible total mass of life there, and the likelihood that cells from that life might be ejected by the plumes.
The team’s model produces a small and sparse biosphere, one amounting to no more than the biomass of a single whale in the moon’s ocean. That’s an interesting finding in itself in contrast to some earlier studies, and it contrasts strongly with the size of the biosphere around Earth’s hydrothermal vents. But the quantity is sufficient to produce enough organic molecules that a future spacecraft could detect them by flying through the plumes. The mission would require multiple plume flybys.
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