Data from NASA’s Cassini mission has found new kinds of organic compounds, which have ingredients for amino acids–the key building blocks of life– from the icy plumes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. According to NASA’s JPL mission, the material is ejected from Enceladus’ core and mixes with water from the moon’s subsurface ocean and released into space as water vapour and ice grains. These newly discovered molecules were condensed onto the ice grains.
  1. After a detailed study, scientists have determined these molecules to be nitrogen and oxygen-bearing compounds, which are the key building blocks of life. 
  2. According to NASA’s press statement, scientists believe Enceladus’ hydrothermal vents are operating in a way similar to how these vents works inside Earth’s oceans. These vents on Saturn’s moon are supplying the energy that leads to the production of amino acids.
  3. If the conditions are right, these molecules coming from the deep ocean of Enceladus could be on the same reaction pathway as we see here on Earth. We don’t yet know if amino acids are needed for life beyond Earth, but finding the molecules that form amino acids is an important piece of the puzzle, said Nozair Khawaja, who led the research team of the Free University of Berlin.
  4. This illustration shows the process of organic compounds making their way onto ice grains emitted in plumes from Saturn’s moon Enceladus, where they were detected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. 
  5. Last year’s the team had discovered insoluble complex organic molecules, which were believed to be floating on the surface of Enceladus’ ocean. “Here we are finding smaller and soluble organic building blocks – potential precursors for amino acids and other ingredients required for life on Earth.