Earth Microbes Could Easily Survive on Saturn's Moon Enceladus
But it's still fascinating, and according to a recent study published in Nature Communications, it's entirely possible for Earth microorganisms to survive on recreations of Enceladus conditions. While this is a far cry from any claims of actual alien life on Enceladus, we now have some strong evidence that microbial life (as we know it) could survive in the ocean hidden beneath the surface of Saturn's moon.
The researchers, led Simon Rittmann from the University of Vienna, came to this conclusion by gathering microbial organisms found among hydrothermal vents on Earth and exposing them to a variety of different conditions found on that moon: water containing the estimated chemical compounds found in Enceladus' underground ocean (according to Cassini probe data), as well as similar pressures and temperatures, and harsh but commonly found chemicals like ammonia and carbon monoxide.
Surprisingly, those microbes didn't just live; they lived it up. Many of the species in the experiment, particularly a deep-sea organism called Methanothermococcus okinawensis, had no trouble feeding and reproducing under the harsh conditions. The researchers had predicted that hydrothermal vents could host similar conditions to those created by Enceladus' rocky core, and the data seems to suggest they're onto something.
#HubbleClassic Captured on February 24, 2009, this movie shows four moons of Saturn (Titan, Mimas, Dione & Enceladus) passing in front of the ringed planet. These rare "transits" only happen when Saturn's rings are tilted nearly "edge on" to Earth: https://t.co/PY1hWDLmHG pic.twitter.com/JNCKEFTZ9i— Hubble (@NASAHubble) February 27, 2018
Hopefully soon, we'll be able to take a closer look at Enceladus, because even with the amount of information granted by Cassini, there's a massive amount of information we could gain by actually sending a probe into its waters. NASA is prepping a spacecraft for that task, as are some other private groups with similar interests.
And once we have a more advanced probe scanning the subterraneous world of Enceladus, they'll have some reference points for what sort of life they should look for.