Scientists have found perhaps the most promising indication yet that life does exist on Enceladus, Saturn‘s sixth-largest moon.
Data gathered by NASA‘s retired Cassini spacecraft reveals the presence of phosphates – a key element for the existence of life – on the moon.
Crucially, the phosphates are not trapped in rocky minerals but dissolved in the moon’s liquid water ocean as salt, the scientists say.
It’s already known that Enceladus has long, snake-like fractures on its icy surface that eject huge plumes made up of ice grains and water vapour out into space.
Only last month did researchers reveal they’d detected a ‘surprisingly large’ plume coming from Enceladus’s south pole that could be a sign of life.
Enceladus is one of few locations in our solar system with liquid water, along with Earth and Jupiter’s moon Europa, making it a target of interest for astrobiologists.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope revealed a water vapour plume jetting from the southern pole of Enceladus
This global ocean of salty liquid water is sandwiched between the moon’s rocky core and the shiny white shell of ice that covers its surface, at least 12 miles thick.
Excitingly, phosphorus has not been detected in oceans beyond those on Earth – until now.