Missing element for life may be present in ocean of Saturn's moon Enceladus - Space.com

Missing element for life may be present in ocean of Saturn's moon Enceladus - Space.com

Missing element for life may be present in ocean of Saturn's moon Enceladus - Space.com
Oct 02, 2022 1 min, 9 secs

The chances of life on Enceladus have just risen thanks to a new understanding of the chemistry of the moon's ocean.

The ocean inside Saturn's moon Enceladus may be enriched with phosphorus, an important element for life as we know it, new research reveals.

Yet previous studies had suggested that phosphorus would be rare on Enceladus.

In 2018, research by Harvard's Manasvi Lingam and Avi Loeb concluded that phosphorus would be scarce in Enceladus' ocean because phosphorus in the rocks on the seabed would slowly dissolve into the ocean.

However, a new study led by Jihua Hao, a senior research scientist at the University of Science and Technology of China, contradicts these earlier findings, claiming that the 2018 research used outdated geochemical models of Enceladus' rocky ocean floor.

Using new modeling based on the latest available data, Hao and Glein's group simulated how phosphorus-rich minerals called phosphates dissolve into the ocean from Enceladus' rocky core.

— If we want to find life on Saturn's moon Enceladus, we need to rule out Earthly hitchhikers!

Despite the tantalizing possibilities, the findings represent a hypothesis; to prove that Enceladus' ocean contains phosphorus, a future mission to Enceladus would have to directly detect orthophosphate or some other phosphorus-derived mineral in the water geysers that regularly erupt from the moon.

"We need to get back to Enceladus to see if a habitable ocean is actually inhabited," Glein said.

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