NASA: Saturn moon Enceladus is 'like a candy store for microbes'

NASA has just announced a new milestone discovery revolving around Saturn's moon Enceladus, revealing that it has most of the ingredients necessary to support life, and that it likely contains the rest of the missing — that is, not yet discovered — components. Most notably, this ocean world, as the space agency calls it, has ample amounts of hydrogen gas in its oceans, something that may work with carbon dioxide in the oceans' waters to support life.

The discovery was made by researchers working under NASA's Cassini mission; their findings were detailed in a newly published study in the journal Science, and it explains that hydrothermal activity on Enceladus' seafloor is pumping hydrogen gas into the moon's subsurface ocean. This hydrogen gas can combine with carbon dioxide to form a reaction known as methanogenesis, which itself produces methane.

According to NASA, this chemical reaction is 'the root of the tree of life on Earth,' and it may have served a vital role in the formation of life here. Hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen have been found on the planet, and are part of the core chemical makeup necessary for life. Missing from the equation still is sulfur and phosphorus; it isn't known at this time whether these two ingredients are also found in the moon's oceans, though researchers anticipate that both are present.

It still is unclear at this time whether any life, such as microbes, exist on the moon. The hydrogen gas detection was made by the Cassini spacecraft, which NASA points out is unable to determine whether life exists in the elements it encounters. Still, the study's lead author Hunter Waite explains, "Although we can't detect life, we've found that there's a food source there for it. It would be like a candy store for microbes."

In addition to the Enceladus discovery, researchers revealed that a 'probable plume' was found erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa last year, lending credence to claims that such plumes exist on the moon. This plume is correlated with a thermal spot of interest, and if the two are connected, says NASA, it could help shed light on the nature of the moon's activities.