(From The Guardian)
Blasts of ocean spray that erupt from a moon of Saturn contain complex organic molecules, making it the only place beyond Earth known to harbour crucial constituents for life as we know it.
Astronomers detected the compounds in plumes of water and ice that shoot from huge fractures in the south pole of Enceladus, a 300-mile-wide ice ball that orbits Saturn along with 52 other moons. Enceladus stands out among the planet’s natural satellites because it hosts a global water ocean beneath its frozen crust.
German and US scientists found tell-tale signs of organic molecules far more complex than amino acids and 10 times heavier than methane in data gathered by Nasa’s Cassini probe as it flew over the fractures on Enceladus. Known as “tiger stripes”, the fissures reach several miles down into the ice and are largely filled with ocean water that percolates up from the ocean.
The discovery has boosted calls to send another mission to Enceladus to answer once and for all whether life exists on the frigid body. While complex organics are necessary for life, and could even be remnants of alien microbes, the compounds can easily be made in routine reactions that have nothing to do with biology.