Enceladus' water plumes contain 'building blocks' of life

Research suggests that Enceladus' water plumes contain the "building blocks" of life.
By Tyler MacDonald | Jul 04, 2018
A new analysis from researchers at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) reveals the presence of complex organic moleculesalso known as the "building blocks" of lifeon Saturn's moon Enceladus.

"We found large molecular fragments that show structures typical for very complex organic molecules," said Nozair Khawaja of the University of Heidelberg, Germany and co-author on the study. "These huge molecules contain a complex network often built from hundreds of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and likely nitrogen that form ring-shaped and chain-like substructures."

The team analyzed mass spectrometry data from Cassini to reveal the organic-rich bubbles that rise from the Enceladus' ocean floor.

"We are, yet again, blown away by Enceladus," said Christopher Glein, who is also a co-author on the study. "Previously we'd only identified the simplest organic molecules containing a few carbon atoms, but even that was very intriguing.

"Now we've found organic molecules with masses above 200 atomic mass units," he added. "That's over ten times heavier than methane. With complex organic molecules emanating from its liquid water ocean, this moon is the only body besides Earth known to simultaneously satisfy all of the basic requirements for life as we know it."

The findings were published in Nature.


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