Any biomass on Enceladus, Saturn’s ‘snowball moon’, might be no bigger than a whale in total, scientists say

Any biomass on Enceladus, Saturn’s ‘snowball moon’, might be no bigger than a whale in total, scientists say

Any biomass on Enceladus, Saturn’s ‘snowball moon’, might be no bigger than a whale in total, scientists say

Is there some kind of alien life on Enceladus, Saturn’s icy moon? If there is then an orbital space probe planned now by NASA could find it, according to a new study.

However, it also suggests that the total biomass the moon’s subterranean ocean could support could be lower than that of a whale.

Finding life on Enceladus would change everything.

If there’s life on this world 800 million miles from Earth, it’s probably microbes (and probably not some weird eyeless creature). However, even that would change the way planetary scientists and astrobiologists view the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe beyond.

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This Enceladus Orbilander mission, which could launching in 2038 to arrive in 2050 – would orbit and land on Saturn’s tiny active moon to investigate the more than 100 plumes at the moon’s south pole pouring into space through cracks in the icy shell. These plumes were first observed by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which orbited Saturn from 1997 to 2017.

Beneath its icy crust, Enceladus is said to have an ocean of warm salt water that could support microbial life in its dark depths.

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In an article published in The Journal of Planetary Science the researchers describe how a hypothetical space mission could prove that there is life – or not – in this ocean.

It is not proposing that a robot be sent to the surface of Enceladus to enter crevices in the ice that appear to be methane burps. It would be very tricky.

“By simulating the data that a more prepared and advanced orbiting spacecraft would gather from the plumes alone, our team has now shown that this approach would be sufficient to confidently determine whether or not there is life in the ocean of Enceladus without having to plumb the depths of the moon,” said Régis Ferrière, lead author of the new paper and associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UArizona.

“It’s an exciting prospect.”

It certainly is. Water vapor and ice particles ejected from Enceladus’ geysers contain gases and other particles from deep within the ocean. Cassini detected methane, suggesting ecosystems, possibly around hydrothermal vents.

“On our planet, hydrothermal vents teem with life, large and small, despite the darkness and insane pressure,” Ferriere said. “The simplest living creatures are microbes called methanogens that feed even in the absence of sunlight.”

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We are not talking about a large amount of biomass. In fact, Enceladus is unlikely to be able to host many.

“We were surprised to find that the hypothetical abundance of cells would only represent the biomass of a single whale in the global ocean of Enceladus,” said Antonin Affholder, first author of the paper and postdoctoral research associate. at the University of Arizona, which was at PSL University (Paris Sciences & Lettres) as part of this research.

“Enceladus’ biosphere can be very sparse,” he said. “And yet, our models indicate that it would be productive enough to feed plumes with just enough molecules or organic cells to be picked up by instruments aboard a future spacecraft.”

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Although it seems an ordinary orbiter could identify life at Enceladus, there is pessimism on the part of scholars as to whether it is actually would be.

If Enceladus Orbilander is to detect signs of life in the plumes, it would have to pass through them multiple times, say the researchers, who caution that any amino acids it might detect would only be indirect evidence of life.

“Definitive proof of living cells captured in an alien world may remain elusive for generations,” Affholder said. “In the meantime, the fact that we can’t rule out the existence of life on Enceladus is probably the best we can do.”

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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