Apr 13, 2017

NASA: Saturn's moon Enceladus could support life


Researchers unveiled evidence of hydrogen plumes on Saturn's moon Enceladus that are similar to deep sea hydrothermal vents on Earth that support primitive life. According to Linda Spilker, a Cassini Project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

"The hydrogen is coming from a hydrothermal vent on the seafloor of Enceladus, the hydrogen could be a source of energy for microbes that might be in Enceladus' ocean."

Potential for life on Jupiter's moon Europa, too: Hubble Space Telescope discovered a water plume on the warmest part of Europa's surface.

Why it matters: The most likely locations for life beyond Earth in our solar system may be these two moons.

The discovery of these hydrothermal vents on Enceladus was made by the Cassini spacecraft, which has been in orbit around Saturn for 14 years. It made a dive through one of Enceladus' plumes in 2015 and used a mass spectrometer to analyze the particles in it to gather this evidence.

How it works: Hydrogen would essentially serve as food for any microbes that might be in Enceladus' ocean. As rocks are exposed to warm water, they undergo a process known as "serpentinization," in which certain minerals rich in iron react with the the ocean and new minerals are produced, forming mineral precipitates.

What's next:

  • Enceladus: The Cassini mission is winding down this year, but researchers would like to confirm existence of phosphorous and sulfur and narrow down the pH on Enceladus.
  • Europa: Researchers want to launch a similar dive into its water plume to give Europa the same treatment as Enceladus.

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South Korea and Italy see spikes in coronavirus cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

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Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins

Bernie Sanders rallies in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 21. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Center-left think tank Third Way urgently called on the Democratic front-runners of the 2020 presidential election to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders on the South Carolina debate stage on Feb. 25, in a memo provided to Axios' Mike Allen on Saturday.

What they're saying: "At the Las Vegas debate ... you declined to really challenge Senator Sanders. If you repeat this strategy at the South Carolina debate this week, you could hand the nomination to Sanders, likely dooming the Democratic Party — and the nation — to Trump and sweeping down-ballot Republican victories in November."