back to article Cassini may be dead – but its data shows basic building blocks of life spewing from Enceladus

Hydrothermal vents on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, are blasting out organic compounds that could provide the right ingredients to make amino acids, the building blocks of life as we know it. Amino acids, considered an essential for life, are used to form proteins in all known living organisms. They contain carbon, oxygen …

  1. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    It's life Jim,...

    but not as we know it. :-)

    1. John Mangan

      Re: It's life Jim,...

      Some assembly required.

      1. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: Some assembly required

        Presenting the new Lïfe™ by IKEA®

        1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory

          Re: Some assembly required

          "We're from Planet IKEA... we come in pieces..."

          1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

            Re: Some assembly required

            That's all fine and well, but do we have evidence that geologic processes on Enceladus have managed to form the necessary Allen wrench to complete assembly?

            1. MiguelC Silver badge

              Re: Some assembly required

              Didn't you mean an alien wrench?

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: It's life Jim,...

        Some assembly required.

        Instructions not included.

  2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    Habitable .. or inhabited ?

    1. tel130y


  3. Tom Paine


    Cassini spacecraft found “low-mass organic compounds in the Enceladean ice grains: nitrogen-bearing, oxygen-bearing, and aromatic.” The ice grains were spewed from the hydrothermal vents on the Moon’s ocean floor.

    No doubt some hipsters in a lockup in Hackney are preparing to launch an artisanal gin based on this recipe.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: GIN!

      Except, in typical short attention span hipster fashion, they will sell the post-ferment, pre-distillation product as "beer". With predictable results.

  4. A Non e-mouse Silver badge


    But what about Europa? Will we be allowed there?

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Europa

      "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid you can't do that"

    2. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

      Re: Europea

      We've all been told the answer to that question previous, and quite clearly too...


      1. NeilPost Bronze badge

        Re: Europea

        Sounds like BoJo’s ‘dog ate my homework’ Brexit 2.0 plan

      2. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge

        Re: Europea

        So we're good if we anchor our drilling platforms in orbit?

  5. 0laf Silver badge

    I wonder

    I wonder, if whole cells (frozen or otherwise) were ejected by the plumes, would the detectors on Cassini have been able to detect them or could it only detect chemical signatures of component molecules?

    Just a passing thought....

    1. Alistair

      Re: I wonder

      I had this conversation with my mother and a fellow she knows who does interesting biology things. One of the questions that *can* be answered is thermal envelope temperatures - and, given those, Enceladus could concievably have some form of unicellular life on it, but unless it *does* have a hot core, it is rather unlikely that that life form will make it much past virus type structures. The details related in the discussion were long and involved but had to do much with allowing certain molecular structures to form requiring *much* higher temps than would be available without a molten core heating the environment. Of course, it was all hypotheticals and scotch, but it was a fun discussion.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: I wonder

        This assumes that said molecular structures would be directly analogous to those used by life on Earth. Certain compounds are stable at the temperature and pressure of liquid water on Earth, but at the temperatures and pressures found at the bottom of an Enceladan ocean, things could be very different. For example, there are complex organisms that thrive around hydrothermal ocean vents on Earth at very different conditions to those we experience. They would die instantly if you transferred them to an air-conditioned office, just as much as I woudl die instantly, if you moved me to a vent at several hundred degrees centigrade at pressures of several tonnes per square millimetre.

        Temperatures on Enceladus may be lower than that (but then again, may not), but if that is the case, then some compounds that are not thermally stable at higher temperatures may form the basis for biochemical reactions there.

        The problem we have is that since we only know of one planet where life has evolved, we only know what the parameters for survival are here, and even then, some of our assumptions about survivable environments for multicellular life have had to be revised when we discover things like tube worms and tardigrades.

    2. pyite42

      Re: I wonder

      IIRC, the main problem with Enceladus is that the sub-surface ocean is expected to be too salty to support life as we know it.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: I wonder

        Too salty? Oh, I dunno ... there are some pretty high-order animals here on Earth that can live in saturated brine solutions. The imaginatively named Brine Shrimp come to mind.

      2. Alistair

        Re: I wonder


        Considering some of the traffic on the interwebs, its pretty damn salty down here on earth, and there's *tons* of lowlife surviving there amongst the trolls.....

      3. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: I wonder

        If it's too salty, maybe we could add a lot of rice, adding rice to a too salty curry tempers the flavour a lot.

  6. Nick Kew Bronze badge


    Titan - once thought the most Earth-like (and potentially inhabitable) body elsewhere in the solar system, famously has a methane-rich atmosphere. Could that be the long-term outcome of organic matter venting in the absence of biological processes to capture and recycle it?

  7. aregross

    "The plumes of water vapour and ice burst through the cracks of its icy surface and fly off into space..." and on to Earth?


    1. BigBear

      Water vapor and ice from Enceladus getting to Earth?


      Not in any but trace quantities, if that. The solids are recaptured by Enceladus, if I understand correctly. The gases would likely be captured by Saturn's powerful gravity.

      To the extent that they are not so captured, the solar wind would carry the gases further away from the Earth, leaving little or nothing just floating about.

      Added to that, the Earth is a VERY great distance from Saturn, even when we're on the same side of the solar system. Brownian-motion based dilution goes with volume, which is proportional to distance^3....

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Water vapor and ice from Enceladus getting to Earth?

        "the Earth is a VERY great distance from Saturn"

        Indeed. Here's a handy page to give folks who are unclear on the concept a rough idea of how much vacuum there is between planets ... And please remember, this is only a one dimensional representation!

        If The Moon Were Only One Pixel.

        1. ZippedyDooDah

          Re: Water vapor and ice from Enceladus getting to Earth?

          That's a great link, thanks.

        2. tel130y

          Re: Water vapor and ice from Enceladus getting to Earth?

          @jake. ...

          And that's not even the pretty way....

  8. Medical Cynic

    Pre GDPR name list

    My daughter's name and signature are on a CD on board Cassini.

    Part of a worldwide schools project.

    Fortunately her signature has changed with maturity, reducing the risk of alien bank scamming!

  9. Muscleguy Silver badge

    Cold water time

    If the precursor compounds are abundant then that means there is unlikely to be anything in that ocean using them to make amino acids then. No sink for them in other words.

    Try finding even loose amino acids on earth, life is so abundant they get snapped up by bacteria or fungi too fast. We humans can make them and labs have them but they are kept frozen until needed and tightly sealed so bacteria are less likely to get in and scoff them.

  10. Schultz Silver badge

    FTFY: "its data shows basic building blocks //of basic building blocks// of life"

    They only found the building blocks for amino acids, which in turn are the basic building blocks of life. So they found the basic building blocks for the basic building blocks of life"!

    I wonder where the basic building blocks for the building blocks of the building blocks came from. Must have been some supernova, I guess.

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