Photo: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Researchers say the icy moon of Saturn known as Enceladus looks increasingly like a habitable world.Chemical reactions there are much like those around deep-sea hydrothermal vents on earth - a forbidding environment that nonetheless sustains life.
These chemical reactions have the potential to occur within the subsurface ocean of Enceladus, according to a new study published this week in Science, the academic journal.
These reactions are dependent on molecular hydrogen, which is probably being produced repeatedly via reactions between rock and hot water deep down in Enceladus's sea.
Jeffrey Seewald from the Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts wrote commentary on the study within the same issue of the journal: "The abundance of H2, along with previously observed carbonate species, suggests a state of chemical disequilibria in the Enceladus ocean that represents a chemical energy source capable of supporting life."
Enceladus is Saturn's sixth-largest moon.It has been a focus of astrobiologiscal interest since 2005 for its potential to harbor life.That same year, NASA's Cassini space probe, which was orbiting Saturn, was first to locate geysers of ice water emerging from "tiger stripe" cracks near the moon's south pole.
Scientists believe these geysers are the products of blasting material from a large sea buried beneath the satellite's icy shell.