Further confirmation of the potential habitability of Enceladus, Saturn's Moon

We already knew that on Enceladus there were various molecules that on our planet are believed to be the basis of the origin of life as we know it but now further evidence has arrived in favour of the potential habitability of this satellite.

Saturn with its rings and the various satellites that orbit it.

Saturn is the sixth planet in the solar system in order of distance from the Sun and the second most massive after Jupiter with which it has numerous analogies including that of having numerous satellites orbiting it. The size of these moons is extremely variable and ranges from less than a km in diameter to about 5,000 km of Titan, the largest natural satellite on this planet.

In the middle of this range of magnitudes there is a very interesting satellite with regard to its high astrobiological potential. It is Encelado, the sixth natural satellite in order of magnitude, with a diameter of just under 500 km.

The data collected by the Cassini probe is fundamental

Between 2004 and 2017 the Cassini probe of the joint interplanetary missionNASA/ESA/ASI collected a very large amount of information about this satellite, which has now been thoroughly analyzed by a research group at Harvard University who then published a brand new study on Nature Astronomy in which they claim to have found further evidence of the potential habitability of this celestial body.

Apparently on this moon there are numerous molecules, including methanol, oxygen, oxidising hydrocarbons, acetylene, propylene and hydrogen cyanic acid which, according to the knowledge in our possession, form the basis for the origin of life.

The data on which the researchers have focused are those collected by the INMS (Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer) spectrometer, capable of determining the chemical, elementary and isotopic composition of the gaseous and volatile components of neutral particles and low-energy ions.

They then had to use mathematical and statistical models to understand how on this planet the various elements had combined together to form molecules and compounds.

Why are these molecules so important?

Among these, the first molecule identified was that of hydrogen cyanide, from whose polymerisation we can lead to the formation of nucleo-bases and amino acids, or the basic constituents for the construction of DNA and proteins, that is, the biological macromolecules at the base of life.

But not only that, partially oxidising hydrocarbons, methanol and molecular oxygen have also been found, which highlight the existence of an oxidising environment in which there may be energy production, which is essential to potentially sustain life.

Most of these molecules have been found in the plumes of Enceladus, huge geysers that launch ice particles into space from the ocean of liquid water present under the icy surface of the satellite.

The presence on this moon of the most important molecules at the base of life, combined with the presence of oxidising compounds capable of producing energy that allows its livelihood, is further proof that the basic requirements for habitability are met on Enceladus.