Data models point to a potentially diverse metabolic menu at Enceladus


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Using data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, scientists at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) modeled chemical processes in the subsurface ocean of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The studies indicate the possibility that a varied metabolic menu could support a potentially diverse microbial community in the liquid water ocean beneath the moon's icy facade.

Prior to its deorbit in September of 2017, Cassini sampled the plume of ice grains and water vapor erupting from cracks on the icy surface of Enceladus, discovering molecular hydrogen, a potential food source for microbes. A new paper published in the planetary science journal Icarus explores other potential energy sources.

"The detection of molecular hydrogen (H2) in the plume indicated that there is free energy available in the ocean of Enceladus," said lead author Christine Ray, who works part time at SwRI as she pursues a Ph.D. in physics from The University of Texas at San Antonio. "On Earth, aerobic, or oxygen-breathing, creatures consume energy in organic matter such as glucose and oxygen to create carbon dioxide and water. Anaerobic microbes can metabolize hydrogen to create methane. All life can be distilled to similar chemical reactions associated with a disequilibrium between oxidant and reductant compounds."

more at link......................

the paper:

Oxidation processes diversify the metabolic menu on Enceladus: