We have always wondered if there is alien life out there. Many a space missions have been launched to study the planets in the far reaches of our solar system. NASA has been at the forefront when it comes to launching planetary missions in the quest for alien life. The space agency has recently published new data from Cassini mission and the Hubble Space Telescope and the results strongly suggest signs of life in our very own Solar System.

This artist’s rendering shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015. New ocean world discoveries from Cassini and Hubble will help inform future exploration and the broader search for life beyond Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Solar System is home to two habitable worlds

Cassini-Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to Saturn which includes a Saturn Orbiter (Cassini) and a lander (Huygens) for the moon Titan. Named after astronomers Giovanni Cassini and Chistiaan Huygens, the spacecraft landed on October 15, 1997, and entered orbit around Saturn on July 1, 2004. Cassini has continued to study the Saturn system ever since.

In the recently published papers, Cassini scientists have announced that a form of chemical energy that life can thrive on appears to exist on Enceladus, which happens to be one of Saturn’s moons. The paper, published in journal Science, describes evidence of hydrogen gas pouring into the subsurface ocean of Enceladus from hydrothermal activity. Microbes (if any) can use hydrogen to obtain energy by combining it with CO2 dissolved in water. This process – known as methanogenesis – has been shown to be very critical to life’s origin on planet Earth. The recent discovery of this process on Enceladus gives strong indications of the presence of the primary ingredients needed for life to exist on Saturn’s moon.

“This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment. These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not” says Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters.

Another paper deals with Hubble Space Telescope findings. The paper talks about observations of Europa, Jupiter’s moon. The telescope was able to record a probable plume of material erupting from moon’s surface. The images, the researchers believe, offer convincing evidence of the existence of Europa plumes as a real phenomenon. Persistent, intermittent plume activity makes it an ideal candidate for future exploration missions, including the upcoming Europa Clipper.

“The plumes on Enceladus are associated with hotter regions, so after Hubble imaged this new plume-like feature on Europa, we looked at that location on the Galileo thermal map. We discovered that Europa’s plume candidate is sitting right on the thermal anomaly,” says William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

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