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Cassini find macromolecular organic compounds in Enceladus

Scientists have found that carbon-rich organic molecules emerge from cracks in the ice surface of Enceladus. International researchers using mass spectrometry data at NASA's Cassini spacecraft found chemical reactions in Saturn's moon between the rock core and warm water from the underwater ocean associated with the molecule.

Previously scientists only identified the simplest organic molecules containing several carbon atoms, now the team has found organic molecules with masses above 200 units of atomic mass or ten times heavier than methane. Enceladus being the only object other than Earth that is known to simultaneously meet all the basic requirements for life.

Penelitian Cassini find macromolecular organic compounds in Enceladus

"Our findings are the first step to understanding the complexity in organic chemistry," said Hunter Waite of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).

Cassini takes samples of the material from the bottom surface. The Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA) and SwRI-led Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) perform measurements both on the inside of the moon and the E-ring of Saturn, formed by ice grains escaping from Enceladus gravity.

INMS detects molecular hydrogen as the spacecraft flies through the blob on October 28, 2015. Flybys previously provided evidence for a global subsurface that is above rocky core. The hydrogen molecule is thought to be formed by geochemical interactions between water and rocks in the hydrothermal environment.

"Hydrogen provides a source of chemical energy that supports microbes to live in the oceans near hydrothermal holes. Once you have identified a potential food source for microbes, the next question is how complex organic properties in the oceans?" said Waite.

A future spacecraft mission can fly through a cloud in Enceladus and analyze complex organic molecules using high resolution mass spectrometers to help scientists determine that the biological synthesis of organic molecules on Enceladus is possible.

Journal : Frank Postberg et al. Macromolecular organic compounds from the depths of Enceladus, Nature, 27 June 2018, DOI:10.1038/s41586-018-0246-4