NASA Space Spin-Offs



The existence of ample amounts of hydrogen in the subsurface ocean of Enceladus indicates that microbes--if any exist there--could use it to obtain energy by mixing with carbon dioxide dissolved in water. This particular chemical reaction, termed methanogenesis, because it manufactures methane as a byproduct, may have been of critical importance in the emergence of life on our planet. The new findings are an independent line of evidence that hydrothermal activity is taking place in the subsurface ocean of Enceladus. Earlier results, published in March 2015, indicated hot water is interacting with rock beneath the sea of this distant moon. The new discoveries support that conclusion and add that the rock appears to be reacting chemically to produce the hydrogen. Dr. Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist and leader of the Imaging Science team for Cassini, explained to the press in March 2012 that "More than 90 jets of all sizes near Enceladus's south pole are spraying water vapor, icy particles, and organic compounds all over the place. Cassini has flown several times now through this spray and has tasted it. And we have found that aside from water and organic material, there is salt in the icy particles. The salinity is the same as that of Earth's oceans."