NASA finds conditions for life on Saturn's moon

"But now, we know that three of the four conditions are there on Enceladus - and this distant moon now joins Mars and Europa as the best potential locations for life beyond Earth in our solar system".

According to NASA, the discovery means the small, icy moon - which has a global ocean under its surface - has a source of chemical energy that could be useful for microbes, if any exist there.

"The new finding is finding hydrogen coming from the plume of Enceladus", said Spilker, "and it could support potentially microbes with energy on the seafloor of Enceladus".

In a statement, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington, outlined the significance of the find: "This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment".

They described their findings in the journal Science.

One of the Saturnian moon's most visible features is its ice plumes - enormous geysers that release water vapor into space.

The presence of hydrogen could be the result of a hydrothermal reaction on the ocean floor of Enceladus - which could create food for microbes.

The new findings, published in the USA journal Science, are an independent line of evidence that hydrothermal activity is taking place in the ocean of Enceladus, a small, icy moon a billion miles farther from the sun than Earth.

Professor David Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at The Open University, said: 'We have now got all the ingredients we need to support life on Enceladus.

NASA held a press conference on Thursday to reveal some exciting new discoveries about ocean worlds within our solar system: It has found evidence that suggest a type of chemical energy that can support life exists on Enceladus, one of Saturn's 62 confirmed moons.

A picture of the ice plumes on Enceladus taken by Cassini. Mary Voytek, an astrobiology senior scientist for NASA, said her money is still on Europa because it is much older and any potential life there has had more time to emerge. The new findings indicate Enceladus has almost all of these ingredients, thought that does not guarantee there are microbes or other life on the tiny, icy moon.

Meanwhile, plumes also were observed erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa.

The moon Enceladus is just 502 kilometers (311 miles) in diameter and has an icy surface, a rocky interior and an ocean of liquid water sandwiched between the two. The Europa Clipper mission, set to send a probe and lander to Jovian moon, is scheduled to launch sometime in the next decade.

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