Washington, March 27 : NASA's Cassini spacecraft has found "seeds of life" in geysers of Saturn's moon Enceladus, in the form of water vapor and organic chemicals.
This organic brew was observed and sampled by the spacecraft during a close flyby of the moon on March 12.
New heat maps of the surface of Enceladus have shown higher temperatures than previously known in the South Polar Region, with hot tracks running the length of giant fissures that are brimming with water vapor and organic chemicals.
The "organic" jets themselves harmlessly peppered Cassini, exerting measurable torque on the spacecraft, and providing an indirect measure of the plume density.
According to Hunter Waite, principal investigator for the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, "To have primordial material coming out from inside a Saturn moon raises many questions on the formation of the Saturn system."
"A completely unexpected surprise is that the chemistry of Enceladus, what's coming out from inside, resembles that of a comet," he said. "Enceladus is by no means a comet. Its brew is like carbonated water with an essence of natural gas," Waite added.
New high-resolution heat maps of the South Pole by Cassini's Composite Infrared Spectrometer show that the so-called tiger stripes, giant fissures that are the source of the geysers, are warm along almost their entire lengths, and reveal other warm fissures nearby.
"These spectacular new data will really help us understand what powers the geysers. The surprisingly high temperatures make it more likely that there's liquid water not far below the surface," said John Spencer, Cassini scientist.
According to Dennis Matson, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory inasadena, California, "Enceladus has got warmth, water and organic chemicals, some of the essential building blocks needed for life."
"We have quite a recipe for life on our hands, but we have yet to find the final ingredient, liquid water, but Enceladus is only whetting our appetites for more," he added.
Cassini's next flyby of Enceladus is in August.