Complex Organics Bubble up from Ocean-World Enceladus (Important)

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Data from NASA՚s Cassini spacecraft reveal complex organic molecules originating from Saturn՚s icy moon Enceladus, strengthening idea that this ocean world hosts conditions suitable for life.

Img of Complex Organics Bubble up from Ocean-World Enceladus
  • Research results show much larger, heavier molecules than ever before.
  • Powerful hydrothermal vents mix up material from moon՚s water-filled, porous core w/water from moon՚s massive subsurface ocean. The mixture was released into space, in form of water vapor & ice grains.
  • Team led by Frank Postberg & Nozair Khawaja of University of Heidelberg, Germany, continues to examine makeup of ejected ice & has recently identified fragments of large, complex organic molecules.

Significance of Larger Molecules

  • Earlier Cassini had detected small, relatively common organic molecules at Enceladus that were much smaller.
  • Complex molecules comprising hundreds of atoms are rare beyond Earth.
  • Presence of large complex molecules, along w/liquid water & hydrothermal activity, bolsters hypothesis that ocean of Enceladus may be habitable environment for life.
  • Results are published today in Nature.
  • Such large molecules can be created by complex chemical processes, including those related to life, or they can come from primordial material in some meteorites.
The “Tiger Stripes” of Enceladus, as Pictured

Where Are the Molecules Coming from at Enceladus

  • At Enceladus, it՚s most likely they come from hydrothermal activity driving complex chemistry in core of moon.
  • Fragments are of hydrothermal origin; in high pressures & warm temperatures, it is possible that complex organic molecules can arise.
  • Organic material is injected into ocean by hydrothermal vents on floor of Enceladus՚ ocean.
  • Something akin to hydrothermal sites found at bottom of oceans on Earth, which are one of possible environments that scientists investigate for emergence of life on own planet.
  • On Enceladus, bubbles of gas, rising thru miles of ocean, could bring up organic material from depths, where they could form thin film floating on ocean surface & in cracks of vents, in interior of moon, beneath its icy shell.
  • After rising near top of ocean, bubbles may burst or otherwise disperse organics, where they were detected by Cassini.

What is Casini Orbiter (Important)

  • Cassini-Huygens mission is cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) & Italian Space Agency.
  • Continuing studies of Cassini data will help us unravel mysteries of this intriguing ocean world.
  • NASA՚s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages mission for NASA՚s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
  • Cassini spacecraft deliberately plunged into Saturn on 15th Sept. , 2017.
  • JPL designed, developed & assembled Cassini orbiter.
  • Radar instrument was built by JPL & Italian Space Agency, working w/team members from U. S. & several European countries.

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