They find the last of the six essential elements for life in Enceladus


It is becoming more and more possible that, in the end, we will not have the first extraterrestrial life form Mars planetBut much further, in EnceladusSaturn’s cold moon.

Several studies had, in fact, already shown that its great underground ocean, buried under a thick layer of ice and heated by gravitational shock saturn, contains most of the basic elements for the development of life. Most, yes, although one was missing.

But that’s all it changed. This was announced just a few days ago frank postbergDuring the Open University of Berlin europenet science congress Recently held in Granada. Postberg and his team have, in fact, discovered that Enceladus also has phosphorus, which means this distant ice moon holds each of the essential elements for life as we know it to exist.

Here on Earth, all forms of life are contained six essential elements, Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, match You sulfur, And the presence of all of them, except phosphorus, had already been confirmed on Enceladus, in conjunction with the waters of its inner ocean. For this reason, and despite the fact that this moon was already considered one of the most favorable scenarios, many believed that a lack of phosphorus would prevent life from forming.

in the e-ring

But now the Enceladus phosphor has appeared, and it has e-ring Why Saturn? For more than ten years, between 1999 and 2009, Cassini Mission, which worked until its scheduled suicide against the planet with the larger ring in 2017, is collecting tiny grains of icy rock from this ring of Saturn. The E ring is powered by ‘jets’ of ice vapor that Enceladus continuously launches into space from its ocean waters. But previous analyzes of these tiny grains, most recently in 2009, failed to find even a trace of phosphorus.

This appears to be what Postberg and his colleagues have achieved with a new analysis carried out with more advanced techniques than was available at the time. Enceladus now meets what is generally considered to be one of the strictest living requirements.

The 2009 analyzes could only look at average grain spectra, and also lacked good reference spectra of known, laboratory-derived compounds to compare with Cassini samples to determine the presence of phosphorus.

But now, Postberg and his team have analyzed many more individual grains, comparing their spectra to the high-resolution spectra that other research groups have been capturing in their laboratories in the decade since the first analysis.

between 100 and 1,000 times greater than on Earth

In total, the researchers analyzed more than a hundred grains, and nine of them showed “without a doubt” unmistakable traces of phosphorus in the form of phosphate. Based on the level of phosphorus present in the grain, Postberg believes that the Enceladus ocean has relatively high levels of this element. “We are talking about a concentration that is 100 to 1,000 times higher than that found in our terrestrial oceans,” the scientist said during his conference call.

Now, with all the necessary elements, all that’s left is to take the final big step: send a new mission there to search for life. Something that will happen soon, as Enceladus is one of NASA’s priority objectives for the next decade.

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