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Saturn's Moon Enceladus Has Everything Life Needs to Thrive

Microbes can survive in conditions like those on Saturn's moon Enceladus — and they might have everything they need to thrive.
Posted at 11:40 AM, Feb 27, 2018

Life can get by in some extreme environments — and those might not be limited to Earth. A new study shows even in the dark ocean of Saturn's moon Enceladus, bacteria might not only survive, but thrive.

Researchers sealed bacteria in a lab environment that mimicked the harsh conditions on Enceladus. This suited them just fine, and they did what they always do: took hydrogen and carbon dioxide and turned them into methane. The Cassini probe detected those same chemicals when it sampled geysers on the Saturn moon.

But life also needs an energy source, and sunlight doesn't reach an underground ocean. Instead, researchers think microbes on Enceladus would get their energy from hydrothermal activity — the same reactions that power the natural vents we find in Earth's oceans.

The research isn't conclusive proof that life exists on Enceladus; non-organic processes could leave the same chemical traces. But this is the latest in a string of findings that show Enceladus could be a promising cradle for basic organisms.

A closer look would help, especially since Cassini wasn't specifically designed to search for life. When its mission ended, the probe was crashed into Saturn so it wouldn't accidentally hit one of the moons and contaminate it with material from Earth. Now, NASA is in the early stages of planning a new mission that will comb those moons for signs of native life.