As new evidence for a crucial component of life has been found in the subsurface water of Saturn's moon Enceladus, the quest for extraterrestrial life has recently grown more intriguing.
A vital component of life, dissolved phosphorus, should be present in rather high concentrations in Enceladus' ocean, according to new models.
As plumes of ice particles and water vapour erupted into space from fractures in the icy surface of Enceladus, the Cassini mission studied samples of the moon's underlying liquid water.
What we've uncovered is that practically all of the fundamental elements for life as we know it are present in the plume.
Although the bioessential element phosphate hasn't been precisely detected, our team found indications of its presence in the ocean beneath the moon's frozen crust.
To sustain conditions that support surface liquid water, worlds with surface seas like Earth must stay within a specific range of distances from their host stars.
Interior water ocean worlds can occur across a far larger range of distances, considerably increasing the likelihood that there are livable worlds throughout the galaxy.
Based on knowledge gained from Cassini about the ocean-seafloor system on Enceladus, team members carried out a thermodynamic and kinetic modelling that models the geochemistry of phosphorus.
To determine if a habitable ocean is indeed populated, we must return to Enceladus.