Saturn’s icy moon of Enceladus subsurface ocean, has a similar makeup to some of the life-sustaining salt lakes found on Earth, a new US study discovery suggested.
This small moon, astrobiologists believe, is probably the best place to look for alien life forms in the Solar System.
Geologically active, this 505-kilometer-wide satellite has powerful geysers blasting through its icy shell.
These geysers contain water comes which from a subterranean ocean located underneath the moon’s icy surface, according to the researchers.
‘The pH of Enceladus,’ a new paper published last Wednesday in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, gazes into the chemical reactions that happen when the ocean water of Enceladus’ comes in contact with its rocky mantle.
The authors have based their research on data gathered aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has been in orbit around Saturn since the year 2004.
Mass-spectrometry measurements of the gaseous and icy grains in Enceladus’ cloud were utilized in the development of a model that estimates the PH and saltiness levels of the water in the moon’s inner ocean.
Enceladus’ ocean would likely be salty and has a basic pH of 11 or 12, neutral pH being 7, says the US team’s findings. The same levels of pH found in ammonia-based glass-cleaning chemicals, though some organisms on Earth still have the capability to live in such conditions.
Enchiladas ocean looks a lot like terrestrial ‘soda lakes,’ due to its large concentration of sodium chloride (NaCl), similar to the lake found in California, the Mono Lake.
For hunters of alien life, it’s considered good news since the Mono Lake fauna include brine shrimp and many different microbes.
The team’s archetype points that the ocean’s high pH level is due to serpentization, a process wherein Enceladus metallic rocks from the upper surface are altered into minerals due to water contact.
Serpentization can also lead to molecular hydrogen (H2) production, a potential source of chemical energy for life form in the ocean’s water, the paper believed.
Study lead author Christopher Glein, from Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, said in a statement, “Molecular hydrogen can both drive the formation of organic compounds like amino acids that may lead to the origin of life, and serve as food for microbial life such as methane-producing organisms.”
The discovery of Enceladus hidden ocean earlier this year by an Italian scientist from Sapienza University in Rome, who also analyzed Cassini data led them to believe that active hydrothermal vents likely exist on Enceladus’ seabed, providing conditions akin to those life sustainability for other life forms on Earth.