Saturn's tiny, icy moon of Enceladus could harbor the means to support life, according to new data from a US-European spacecraft. But don't pack your bags yet, temperatures tend to reach only -198 degrees C (-324 F).
An international spacecraft has discovered complex organic molecules originating from an icy moon orbiting the planet of Saturn, scientists said on Wednesday.
Frank Postberg and Nozair Khawaja from Germany's University of Heidelberg identified the molecules detected by the Cassini spacecraft after they were ejected in ice grains through cracks in Enceladus' icy shell.
"It is the first ever detection of complex organics coming from an extraterrestrial waterworld," Postberg said.
Cassini previously flew near to Enceladus in 2005 and discovered lighter organic molecules. Larger molecules like those recently detected are created by chemical processes that could support life, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).
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"This is the most recent in a long series of discoveries made by Cassini that have been painting Enceladus as a potentially habitable waterworld," ESA said.
Postberg said he believed the molecules originated in the high pressures and warm temperatures deep within the moon's core, before making their way to the water's surface and slipping through cracks in the icy exterior.
The Cassini mission, a joint venture between the ESA, the US Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), ended in 2017.
Covered in ice, temperatures on the moon tend to reach only -198 degrees C (-324 F).