Organic Compounds in Plumes of Saturn's Moon Enceladus
October 4, 2019 4:05 AM   Subscribe

Organic Compounds in Plumes of Saturn's Moon Enceladus NASA's Cassini spacecraft collected invaluable data and images of Saturn and its moons over the approximately 20 years that the mission took place. While the mission ended on Sept. 15, 2017, scientists continue to study the wealth of data that they gathered during the mission.

In one new study, scientists looked at the material that Enceladus ejects from its core using hydrothermal vents. The material mixes with water in the moon's subsurface ocean and is then emitted as water vapor and icy grains.

In studying these ejections, the team found organic molecules that are condensed onto these grains and which contain oxygen and nitrogen. This comes after the first discovery of organics on the moon in 2018.

Similar compounds on Earth take part in the chemical reactions that form amino acids, which are the organic compounds that combine to form proteins and are essential to life as we know it.
posted by The Blue Olly (7 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
All these worlds are yours except for Enceladus. Attempt no landing there.
posted by Chaffinch at 4:48 AM on October 4, 2019 [10 favorites]

I haven't been able to do more than scan the original paper for examples of the compounds found; does anyone have a ready knowledge of how this mix compares to what we've found on say comets, Martian regolith (I know perchlorate is a problem there), and star forming nebulae, ect? I know short carbon chains with OH and NH groups are out there, but the aromtics sound new, but I don't study this.
Paging an expert please!
posted by The Legit Republic of Blanketsburg at 8:54 AM on October 4, 2019

Low-mass nitrogen-, oxygen-bearing, and aromatic compounds in Enceladean ice grains


Saturn’s moon Enceladus is erupting a plume of gas and ice grains from its south pole. Linked directly to the moon’s subsurface global ocean, plume material travels through cracks in the icy crust and is ejected into space. The subsurface ocean is believed to be in contact with the rocky core, with ongoing hydrothermal activity present. The Cassini spacecraft’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) detected volatile, gas phase, organic species in the plume and the Cosmic Dust Analyser (CDA) discovered high-mass, complex organic material in a small fraction of ice grains. Here, we present a broader compositional analysis of CDA mass spectra from organic-bearing ice grains. Through analogue experiments, we find spectral characteristics attributable to low-mass organic compounds in the Enceladean ice grains: nitrogen-bearing, oxygen-bearing, and aromatic. By comparison with INMS results, we identify low-mass amines [particularly (di)methylamine and/or ethylamine] and carbonyls (with acetic acid and/or acetaldehyde most suitable) as the best candidates for the N- and O-bearing compounds, respectively. Inferred organic concentrations in individual ice particles vary but may reach tens of mmol levels. The low-mass nitrogen- and oxygen-bearing compounds are dissolved in the ocean, evaporating efficiently at its surface and entering the ice grains via vapour adsorption. The potentially partially water soluble, low-mass aromatic compounds may alternatively enter ice grains via aerosolization. These amines, carbonyls, and aromatic compounds could be ideal precursors for mineral-catalysed Friedel–Crafts hydrothermal synthesis of biologically relevant organic compounds in the warm depths of Enceladus’ ocean.
posted by disconnect at 11:17 AM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is very cool - thanks for posting about it!
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:50 AM on October 4, 2019

My pipe dream is that James Cameron will set his mind to diving a submersible into the depths of Enceladus and letting all of us his TV audience see what's there.

Seriously, though, it really feels like the possibility of finding life elsewhere in the solar system within my lifetime is not out of the question. That in itself is astounding.
posted by brambleboy at 12:04 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Let's make sure we don't bring Earth life to Europa or Enceladus if we land there. Any living thing from Earth might outcompete and obliterate an alien ecosystem or biosphere.
posted by sindark at 10:40 PM on October 5, 2019

NASA takes the possibility of bacterial contamination seriously.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:40 PM on October 13, 2019

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