Cassini’s findings also show that levels of carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane measured in the Enceladus plume were out of equilibrium, an imbalance that could provide an energy source that organisms could tap into for food, according to a paper published Thursday in the journal Science.
“It indicates there is chemical potential to support microbial systems,” said J. Hunter Waite Jr., program director for the space science and engineering division at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and lead author of the Science paper.
In a separate paper published Thursday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, another team of researchers, using the Hubble Space Telescope, once again spotted what appears to be a similar plume rising from Europa, one of Jupiter’s big moons that also possesses an ocean beneath an icy exterior.
Cassini had earlier found that there are seas of methane on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, a discovery that has inspired some scientists to suggest sending a boat there.
At a mere 310 miles wide, Enceladus was considered too small to be geologically interesting; scientists suspected that its interior had frozen solid long ago. But 11 years ago, Cassini spotted plumes rising from the south pole region, one of the biggest, most surprising discoveries of the mission.
The tidal forces of Saturn pulling and squeezing Enceladus…