'Building Blocks of Life' Found in Icy Geysers on Saturn's Moon Enceladus

Thursday, 10 October 2019 - 4:30PM
Thursday, 10 October 2019 - 4:30PM
'Building Blocks of Life' Found in Icy Geysers on Saturn's Moon Enceladus
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NASA/JPL-Caltech
Oxygen and nitrogen-bearing compounds – components of amino acids, the so-called 'building blocks of life' – were found on Enceladus, one of Saturn's numerous moons, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft before its final plunge into the ringed planet two years ago. The findings, gleaned from data analyzed by scientists at the University of Free Berlin, were published in the esteemed Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society last week. 


The compounds were detected in ice grains that fell to Enceladus' frosty surface and are thought to be the result of hydrothermal vents ejecting material from the moon's core. The material mixes with liquid water, found under Enceladus' icy crust, and is then forcibly ejected as water vapor and ice into space. Similar compounds are found on Earth, where underwater hydrothermal vents trigger chemical reactions that also produce amino acids.


"If the conditions are right, these molecules coming from the deep ocean of Enceladus could be on the same reaction pathway as we see here on Earth," said Nozair Khawaja, the research team's leader in a NASA/JPL press release. "We don't yet know if amino acids are needed for life beyond Earth, but finding the molecules that form amino acids is an important piece of the puzzle."

Science
NASA