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Beneath The Icy Crust Of Enceladus. The research paper written by scientists with the Cassini mission, published in the journal Science, suggests the presence of hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas, that could potentially provide a chemical energy source for life, is pouring into the subsurface ocean of Enceladus from hydrothermal activity on the seafloor of this bewitching, distant moon-world.
This important measurement was made using Cassini's INMS instrument, which detects gases with the goal of determining their composition. INMS was designed to sample the upper atmosphere of Saturn's large, smoggy moon Titan. However, after Cassini's surprising discovery of a tall plume if icy spray erupting from cracks on Enceladus in 2005, planetary scientists turned its detectors to that small moon.
Dr. Porco further believes that Enceladus's orbit could have been much more eccentric in the past. The greater the eccentricity, the greater the tidal squeezing, and the resulting structural variations produce heat. In this case, the heat would have been saved inside the icy moon, melting some of the ice to replenish the liquid water sea. Dr. Porco continued to explain that "(T)he tidal flexing occurring now is not enough to account for all the heat presently coming out of Enceladus. One way out of this dilemma is to assume that some of the heat observed today was generated and stored internally in the past... (N)ow that the orbit's eccentricity has lessened, the heat emanating from the interior is a combination of heat produced today and in the past."
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Comets are really traveling relic icy planetesimals, the remnants of what was once a vast population of ancient objects that contributed to the construction of the quartet of giant, gaseous planets of the outer Solar System: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Alternatively, the asteroids--that primarily inhabit the region between Mars and Jupiter termed the Main Asteroid Belt--are the leftover rocky and metallic planetesimals that bumped into one another and then merged together to form the four rocky and metallic inner planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Planetesimals of both the rocky and icy kind blasted into one another in the cosmic "shooting gallery" that was our young Solar System. These colliding objects also merged together to create ever larger and larger bodies--from pebble size, to boulder size, to mountain size--and, finally, to planet size.
"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," commented Dr. Linda Spilker in the April 13, 2017 NASA Press Release. Dr. Spilker is Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
The clear indications that Enceladus possesses liquid water, and perhaps life, catapulted the tiny moon into the same mighty league as its sister moons, Europa of Jupiter and Titan of Saturn, as a world that could potentially harbor precious living tidbits.