Organic Compounds Found on Enceladus

4 Oct 2019

This is one of the big stories this week - on the origin of life (are scientists are on the verge of showing us how life developed on the Earth). Go to https://phys.org/news/2019-10-compounds-enceladus-ice-grains.html ...  For an added bonus you can also go to https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/10/03/new-organic-compounds-found-in-en... ... which comes with lots of interesting comments (and an equal number of not so interesting comments). Wheat and chaff and all that. Basically the story is that new organic compounds, some of the ingredients of amino acids, have been detected in the plumes bursting from Saturn's moon, Enceladus. The findings are the result of data from the Cassini mission (which are still being analysed by scientists). Firstly, it should be pointed out that these organic compounds do not neccesarily equate with life as it is not amino acids themselves that have been found but some  of the ingredients that make up amino acids.

Hydrothermal vents eject material from the core of Enceladus, it is thought, which when mixed with water from its subsurface ocean, subsequently released into space as water vapour and ice grains, is where these compounds have been located. Are they the result of electro magnetic activity and electrified gas (plasma). On the Earth similar compounds are part of chemical reactions that produce amino acids, the building blocks of life. Hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor of the Earth create the reactions. It seems that the hydothermal vents on Enceladus are 'though' to behave in a similar way. What is clear is that energy is required in the production of amino acids.

The new findings are said to complement the discovery last year by the same researchers that insoluble complex organic molecules were seen to float on the surface of Enceladus ocean. The latest study follows on from this (see also https://academic.oup.com/mnras/article/489/4/5231/5573821/ ).