Signs of life shooting from Saturn’s moon Enceladus would be detectable by spacecraft, scientists Reveal

Finding signs of life in the Universe has remained the primary objective of most astrobiologists. In the last decade when NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was still in operation in the Saturnian system, it turned its instruments towards Saturn’s moon Enceladus. While making this turn, the space probe studied plumes of ice ejecting upward from the surface of Enceladus.

These plumes of ice shoot up at a speed of roughly 900 miles per hour (1,448 kilometers per hour). Scientists suggest that they appear to be emanating from a massive subsurface ocean on the moon. These ices made researchers wonder if the ejected fluid might contain organic molecules, which are primary signs of life.

However, if astrobiologists want to verify the presence of organic molecules in this fluid, they need to figure out how to collect their samples without destroying their content. Scientists are conducting experiments to see if the presence of amino acids in those geysers’ fluid could easily be spotted when it makes contact with a spacecraft.

How Scientists are working to discover signs of life on Enceladus

Scientists used lab working experience to experiment on physical apparatus built specifically to study collisions. The team created ice particles by driving water via a high-voltage needle. The charge particles fragmented the water into tiny droplets.

Each of these droplets became crystallized into an ice grain as it moved into a vacuum. The scientists later shot the hardened grains via a spectrometer captured each grain and also documented their impact times. Researchers discovered that amino acids that exist within the ice grains could likely survive impact speeds of about 9,400 mph (15,128 kilometers per hour).

This is more than enough ability to withstand an encounter with a spacecraft. Researchers want to collect undamaged ice grains to obtain a clear reading of compounds that lie within the ice.

“Our work shows that this is possible with the ice plumes of Enceladus,” Robert Continetti, a chemist at the University of California San Diego and one of the researchers behind the work, said in a statement.

The team conducted the experiment using data obtained from Enceladus. However, they are also exploring the idea of using their suggestions beyond a single Saturn’s moon. Scientists suggest that if similar amino acids exist on Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, then future missions like the Europa Clipper will also discover signs of life in the ice grains of plumes ejecting from the moon’s surface.

The team that conducted the study published their findings on Dec. 4 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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