Saturn's and Jupiter's moons might be able to sustain life

Finding life or indeed living on other planets ourselves has always been a dream but, at the rate that we're going, it might soon become a critical necessity. Much of our off-planet colonization fantasies have focused on planets outside our solar system but, as NASA scientists are finding out, we might not have to look that far. Two separate and rather old NASA missions are discovering clues that Enceladus, Saturn's icy moon, and Europa, Jupiter's equally icy moon, might have just the right elements to sustain life, either ours or someone else's.

Although Cassini mission launched way back 1997, it wasn't until 2004 that it entered Saturn's orbit. It took another 10 years, in 2014, for the orbiter to start reporting in some rather interesting findings coming from Saturn's moon, Enceladus. According to a paper by Cassini mission researchers, the moon is ejecting plumes of what turned out to be 98% water, 1% hydrogen, and other gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, and amonia. As it turns out, these are exactly some of the ingredients necessary to sustain life as we know it here on Earth.

Among the chemical ingredients of organic life, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen have already been observed on Enceladus. The other two, phospor and sulfur, have yet to be discovered, but scientists are confident that the elements are there, since Enceladus is believed to have a core similar to that of meteorites that have those two in abundance.

As for Jupiter's moon Europa, the observation is less definitive and more remote, coming from the Hubble Space Telescope. Back in 2014, scientists observed what they thought was a one time plume, similar to the phenomenon on Enceladus. But just last year, they observed yet another, higher plume, and in the exact same location as the 2014 plume. Comparing it with thermal map that NASA's Galileo mission gathered in the 1990s, Hubble scientists discovered that the location corresponds to a thermal anomaly on Europa, a warm region on the otherwise frozen moon.

Considering the similarities, scientists are only too excited to theorize that the Europa plumes could also be composed mainly of water being ejected out of the moon's icy crust and is warming up the region. It could, very well, also have the same life-sustaining elements as Enceladus. Hubble, unfortunately, is just too far to make further investigations, but the discovery is definitely getting NASA even more stoked about its 2020 Europa Clipper mission.