A new geochemical analysis reinforces the idea that, under the icy crust of Enceladus, Saturn’s moon, all the conditions necessary for life can occur.
Researchers from Southwest Research Institute, in the USA, has just launched a new geochemical model that reveals that the carbon dioxide (CO2) inside Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, which houses an ocean beneath its icy surface, can be controlled by chemical reactions at the bottom of the sea.
The study of geysers that emanate from the south of Enceladus and the frozen sea foam that is released through cracks in the ice that covers the surface of the alien moon, suggests that its interior is much more complex than previously thought. It is also much more favorable to life.
By understanding the composition of the geysers, we can discover what the ocean is like, how it emerged and provides environments where life as we know it could exist.
We created a new technique to analyze the composition of the vapor and gas column to estimate the concentration of dissolved CO2 in the ocean. This allowed the modeling to explore more complex internal processes.
The analysis of mass spectrometry data collected over the years by the Cassini mission from NASA indicates that the abundance of CO2 is best explained by the geochemical reactions between the rocky core of that moon and the liquid water of its underground ocean.
According to our findings, Enceladus appears to be the demonstration of a massive carbon sequestration experiment. On Earth, climate scientists are exploring whether a similar process can be used to mitigate industrial CO2 emissions.
Using two different data sets, we found CO2 concentration ranges intriguingly similar to those expected from the dissolution and formation of certain mixtures of minerals and carbon that contain silicon and carbon on the seabed.
According to the researchers, moreover, the more than likely presence of hydrothermal chimneys at the bottom of the global ocean of Enceladus only adds more complexity to the equation.
At the bottom of Earth’s ocean, these same types of hydrothermal vents emit hot, energy-rich fluids loaded with minerals, allowing unique ecosystems full of unusual creatures to thrive.
Hunter Waite, another of the article’s signatories said:
Therefore, the dynamic interface of a complex nucleus and seawater could have created energy sources capable of sustaining life.
And although we have yet to find traces of microbial life in the ocean of Enceladus, the growing evidence of chemical imbalance is a tempting suggestion that habitable conditions may exist under the icy crust of that moon.