Nasa to announce alien habitable zones on one of Saturn’s moons tomorrow, claim rumours

A Nasa press briefing will be held at 14:00 ET (19:00 GMT) tomorrow. Nasa says it will ‘will help inform future ocean world exploration’. Rumours suggest the finding is in an alien ocean on Enceladus, a moon of Saturn

Nasa may have found a ‘potential alien habitat’ on one of Saturn’s moons, according to rumours.

The US space agency will hold a press briefing tomorrow to reveal a discovery that will ‘help inform future ocean world exploration’.

But a former Nasa employee has suggested that the the space agency will announce that they have found evidence of chemical activity in an alien ocean on Enceladus, a moon of Saturn.

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It’s thought that Enceladus may hold the right conditions for life, with rumoured watery jets, hydrothermal activity, and a global ocean buried beneath its icy crust

It’s thought that Enceladus may hold the right conditions for life, with rumoured watery jets, hydrothermal activity, and a global ocean buried beneath its icy crust

ENCELADUS

Enceladus is Saturn’s sixth largest moon, at 313 miles wide (504 kilometers).

Cassini observations have revealed hydrothermal activity, with vents spewing water vapour and ice particles out from a global ocean buried beneath the icy crust.

According to NASA, the plume includes organic compounds, volatile gases, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, salts, and silica.

While it may look ‘inhospitable’ like Saturn’s other moons, the observations suggest it may have the ingredients to support life.

‘These new discoveries will help inform future ocean world exploration – including Nasa’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission planned for launch in the 2020s – and the broader search for life beyond Earth,’ NASA said.

But Keith Cowing, an analyst for Astrobiology and and former Nasa employee, claims Nasa scientists have discovered chemical activity inside hydrothermal vents on the icy moon of Enceladus.

‘On Thursday Nasa will announce evidence that hydrothermal activity on the floor of an ice-covered ocean on Saturn’s moon Enceladus is most likely creating methane from carbon dioxide,’ Mr Cowing wrote in Astrobiology.

‘The process is indicative of possible habitable zones within the ocean of Enceladus.’

‘Before we go any further, ‘habitable’ does not mean ‘inhabited’.’

Enceladus is Saturn’s sixth largest moon, at 313 miles wide (504 kilometers). According to Nasa, vents spewing water vapour and ice particles are under its icy crust

Enceladus is Saturn’s sixth largest moon, at 313 miles wide (504 kilometers). According to Nasa, vents spewing water vapour and ice particles are under its icy crust

WHO WILL SPEAK AT THE ANNOUNCEMENT

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington

Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters

Mary Voytek, astrobiology senior scientist at NASA Headquarters

Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California

Hunter Waite, Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer team lead at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio

Chris Glein, Cassini INMS team associate at SwRI

William Sparks, astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore

Enceladus is Saturn’s sixth largest moon, at 313 miles wide (504 kilometers).

It’s thought that Enceladus may hold the right conditions for life, with rumoured watery jets, hydrothermal activity, and a global ocean buried beneath its icy crust.

The possible discovery of chemical activity inside hydrothermal vents is tantalizing to scientists as life on Earth started in such deep-sea crevasses.

‘Hydrothermal vents have been found in many locations on Earth where superheated water from deep within the planet reaches the ocean,’ Mr Cowling said.

‘Due to the temperatures and pressure of these vents, some very interesting chemistry occurs.

‘Many astrobiologists have suggested that such hydrothermal vents may be where life first originated on our planet.’

On Earth, these vents are home to microorganisms that have adapted to glean energy from chemicals rather than the sun.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured some of the closest views yet of Saturn’s icy rings as it moves through its penultimate mission. A region in Saturn's outer B ring is pictured. The new images show them off in much greater detail, resolving details as small as .3 miles – the scale of Earth’s tallest buildings.

Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft has captured some of the closest views yet of Saturn’s icy rings as it moves through its penultimate mission

SATURN’S MOONS MAY BE YOUNGER THAN THE DINOSAURS

While Saturn’s rings and moons were first spotted in 1600s, there is an ongoing debate about how old they are.

Many assume that they are primordial – as old as the planet itself – making them around four billion years old.

However, evidence published last month suggests the majority of its moons are significantly younger than this and may have even formed at the same time dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

In 2012, French astronomers discovered that tidal effects, caused by gravity of the inner moons with fluids in Saturn’s interior, are causing the moons to spiral outward relatively quickly.

This suggests the moons, and presumably the rings, are younger than the planet itself.

A team of researchers, led by Matija Cuk, principal investigator at the SETI Institute in California, used computer modeling to infer the past behaviour of Saturn’s icy inner moons.

His team also used results from Nasa’s Cassini mission to study ice geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

The orbits of Tethys, Dione and Rhea are less altered than previously thought and their relatively small orbital tilts suggest they haven’t crossed many orbital resonances.

This means they formed not far from where they are now.

Assuming the energy powering the geysers on Enceladus comes directly from tidal interactions, and that moon’s level of geothermal activity is more or less constant, then tides within Saturn are strong.

According to the team’s analysis, these would move the satellite by the small amount indicated by the simulations in only about 100 million years.

This would date the formation of the major moons of Saturn, with the exception of more distant Titan and Iapetus, to the Cretaceous Period, the era of the dinosaurs.

‘In turn, larger life forms feed upon these microorganisms and entire communities can arise,’ he said.

‘Unlike the ecological interactions we are used to seeing on Earth’s surface where life either depends directly on sunlight or eats life forms that depend on sunlight, these deep hydrothermal communities are able to operate without any energy input from the sun.’

Scientists hope that organisms that are able to thrive in harsh conditions may also live in other parts of space.

Tomorrow’s announcement may even indicate these organisms exist inside our own solar system, according to Mr Cowing.

‘Nasa bases this determination on the amount of hydrogen in plumes emanating from the moon’s south pole,’ he added.

‘The large amount of hydrogen is strongly suggestive of a constant hydrothermal process wherein the ocean under the surface of Enceladus is interacting with rock and organic compounds.’

All will be revealed at tomorrow’s event, which are to be held at the James Webb Auditorium at Nasa’s Headquarters in Washington.

The event will include remote participation from experts across the country.

THE DEATH OF CASSINI

Cassini’s mission will officially terminate on September 15, in a planned plunge.

Since it left earth in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004, Cassini has been touring the system with an up-close study of the planet, its rings and moons.

Twenty years after leaving Earth, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is set to embark on the ‘thrilling final chapter’ of its life. The craft has circled Saturn for 13 years – but now, it’s running low on fuel

Twenty years after leaving Earth, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is set to embark on the ‘thrilling final chapter’ of its life. The craft has circled Saturn for 13 years – but now, it’s running low on fuel

During its journey, Cassini has made dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean within Enceladus and liquid methane seas on Titan.

Before Nasa’s Cassini probe captured the most detailed images of Saturn ever seen, it dropped its companion Huygens on the planet’s largest moon, Titan.

After nearly 20 years in space, the mission is drawing near its end because the spacecraft is running low on fuel.

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