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Odd methane plumes on one of Saturn's moons may be evidence of life, study says

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21.09.2021

Peculiar readings from Saturn's moon Enceladus have spurred researchers to probe the possibility that life might exist on the bizarre world in the outer solar system.

In 2005, NASA's Cassini Saturn orbiter took images of geysers blasting particles of water ice into space from fractures near the moon's south pole. The observation led to speculation that there may be a vast ocean tucked between the moon's core and its icy shell.

As Cassini flew through these plumes, it was able to sample their chemical makeup. The orbiter detected dihydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide at unexpected levels. More peculiarly, the amount of methane detected in the plumes raised eyebrows, as methane production can be a sign of life as we know it.

The observation of a peculiar amount of methane — combined with an observation of dihydrogen (H2) and water ice — left astrobiologists puzzling over the possibility that Enceladus might be a habitable place for life. But methane, dihydrogen and water ice are not a smoking gun: methane can be produced by natural chemical reactions, and its existence alone isn't necessarily an indicator of........

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