The evidence was collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which has been examining Saturn and its satellites since 2004, providing Earth-bound researchers with important data.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected hydrogen in a plume of gas and icy particles spraying from Saturn's moon Enceladus, prompting the question could it be a suitable energy source for microbes to exist in its sub-surface oceans.
The newly imaged plume rises about 62 miles above Europa's surface, while the one observed in 2014 was estimated to be about 30 miles high. From that pass and previous observations using the Cassini's Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) instrument - which basically acts like a chemical nose to sniffs gases - the instrument found that the plumes contain about 98 percent water, one percent hydrogen and that the final percent consisted of a mixture of other molecules including carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia.
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"Most of us would be excited with any life, and certainly when we're talking about the sources of energy, this is to feed the base of a food web". As such, a new spacecraft will be needed to continue our search for life on the icy moon.
Writing in the journal Science, the U.S. team led by Dr Hunter Waite, from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, concluded: "Our analysis supports the feasibility of methanogenesis as an energy-releasing process that can occur over a wide range of geochemical conditions plausible for Enceladus' ocean". This process leads to the production of methane; this compound is also found in the roots of trees on Earth and is likely to have played a major role in the existence of life on our planet.
"These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA's science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not", he added. And the potential for hydrothermal similarities to Enceladus is supported by thermal imaging captured during a flyby of Europa by the Galileo probe over 15 years ago, which saw heat activity right below the plume location.
Enceladus is quite small, makes it about 15 percent as large as Earth's moon.
"If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper we will be ready for them", said Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science, at NASA Headquarters.
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