Humanity’s best hope for finding alien life may be Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
Scientists say the icy celestial body is the only world in the solar system other than Earth with all the ingredients needed for life.
The natural satellite pumps organic molecules – a precursor to microbial life – from its liquid subsurface ocean, readings from a Nasa probe show.
Researchers said they were ‘blown away’ by the study, adding the results could direct future searches for extra-terrestrial life.
The types of life form that might be able to live on Enceladus would not be little green men – but would be similar to microbes living in extreme conditions on earth – such as volcanic vents on the ocean floor.
‘The findings have great significance for the next generation of exploration,’ said study coauthor Dr Christopher Glein, a researcher at the Southwest Research Insitute in San Antonio, Texas.
‘A future spacecraft could fly through the plume of Enceladus, and analyse those complex organic molecules using a high-resolution mass spectrometer to help us determine how they were made.
‘We must be cautious, but it is exciting to ponder that this finding indicates that the biological synthesis of organic molecules on Enceladus is possible.’
Enceladus – 628 million miles from Earth – is extremely cold and features ice volcanos across its cracked surface crust.
Scientists have long suspected the moon may host alien life since the discovered of its subsurface ocean by Nasa’s Cassini probe in 2015.
The moon regularly ejects plumes of water and ice particles from its global ocean via hydrothermal vents.
The research team closely studied readings of one of these plumes that was collected by Cassini.
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