Thursday, June 28, 2018

Complex Organic Molecules Discovered on Saturn Moon Enceladus

 Scientists analyzing data collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft have discovered the presence of complex organic molecules originating from the moon's water vapour plumes and Saturn's younger E-ring.
 Back in 2005, Cassini detected plumes of water vapour and icy particles erupting from Enceladus, revealing the presence of a giant ocean hidden underneath the moon's icy shell. Through further analysis, simple organic (carbon-based) compounds had been discovered in the plumes. However, this new research revealed the existence of complex molecules, with some at least 15 carbon atoms in size.
 The discovery was made possible through an analysis of data that Cassini collected when it flew through a plume from Enceladus and through Saturn's E ring, which is composed primarily of ice grains from the icy moon. Complex organic molecules were detected in both the plume and the ring.
Researchers believe that these organic molecules were created inside the hot, rocky core of Enceladus and then ejected through hydrothermal vents. However researchers pointed out there is the possibility that the molecules discovered in the ring could have been a result of sunlight-triggered chemical reactions in space.
 "However, we observe the highest proportion of these complex organics in the young, inner E ring close to Enceladus, as compared to the old, outer E ring far away from Enceladus," said Frank Postberg from the University of Heidelberg in Germany. "Furthermore, we also see the complex organics directly in the plume."
 Researchers caution these new findings as this research is not solid evidence of light. Biological reactions are not the only potential sources for complex organic molecules. Instead, the next logical step is to send a mission back to Enceladus soon "and see if there is extraterrestrial life," according to Postberg.

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