They are able to survive without sunlight, using hydrogen and carbon dioxide supplied by thermal heating from deep-water vents.
This could provide the necessary energy to support organisms at the seafloor of Enceladus.'Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth,' said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
Enceladus, a frozen moon around 800million miles from Earth, was one of the least likely candidates.
But in 2005 the Cassini spacecraft was orbiting Saturn when it picked up plumes of vapour coming from the ‘tiger stripes’, or deep fissures, in the moon’s surface.
Hunt for alien life is set to begin on Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth largest moon, after Cassini’s deepest ever dive into its cracks found hydrogen gas During its deepest-ever dive into a plume from cracks in Enceladus’ ice-covered ocean, the Cassini spacecraft detected the presence of hydrogen gas.
NASA hailed a ‘new frontier’ last night after revealing some of the strongest evidence yet that alien life may exist.
The space agency said that practically all the elements needed for life had been discovered in the same place in our solar system – on one of Saturn’s icy moons.
The last two of these, phosphorus and sulphur, have not yet been found in Enceladus’s ocean – but scientists suspect them to be there because the rocky core of the moon is believed to be chemically similar to meteorites containing them.
This now paves the way for further explorations to find life in our solar system.'Although we can't detect life, we've found that there's a food source there for it,' said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study.'It would be like a candy store for microbes.' The hydrogen, which shoots out of the moon in high-powered ice jets, is the final puzzle piece following the discovery of its liquid ocean and carbon dioxide.