Saturn’s Moon Enceladus Releases Phosphorus as A Key Building Block of Life

Written by Reananda Hidayat Permono Completed Master of Science - MS, Petroleum Geology from Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

Scientists have found phosphorus in salty ice grains on Saturn’s moon Enceladus that were released between the cracks of the moon’s shell.

Moreover, an ocean exists beneath the thick surface and some material regularly releases at Enceladus’ south pole.

NASA used data from the agency’s Cassani mission, which researched Saturn and the Moons of Saturn between 2004 and 2017.

NASA’s aircraft flew through Saturn’s E ring and the plumes of Enceladus many times to collect the data.

Later, Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer detected organic compounds and minerals necessary for life.

From the previous data, scientists detected the presence of potassium, sodium, carbonate, and chlorine compounds in the ice grains.

Now, they can add phosphorus to the list. Interestingly, it’s the first time that phosphorus has been detected in an ocean beyond Earth.

You can find the study detailing the findings in the Nature Journal.

Dr. Frank Postberg, the lead study author, said phosphorus in the form of phosphates is essential for the creation of RNA and DNA, ATP, and cell membranes.

Furthermore, researchers said the detection of phosphorus and other organic compounds suggests the Enceladus ocean could be habitable for life.

The ocean exists beneath an ice shell, but there are indications of hydrothermal environments on the seafloor.

This condition will keep the ocean at a warmer temperature.

Postberg also said that the phosphates that have been dissolved in Enceldus’ ocean are available for the formation of life.