NASA has confirmed there are conditions on one of Saturn’s moons which make alien life possible.
They said they are ‘not making any claims’ at this point – but the next steps will be to look for signs of life.
Enceladus is the only place beyond Earth where scientists have found direct evidence of a possible energy source for life, according to the findings in the journal Science.
Ice plumes from the moon, which has an ocean, contain hydrogen from hydrothermal vents, which some researchers think is similar to the environment that led to life on Earth four billion years ago.
The discovery was made using NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which ends a 13-year mission to Saturn in September.
‘If correct, this observation has fundamental implications for the possibility of life on Enceladus,’ geochemist Jeffrey Seewald, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, wrote in a related commentary in Science.
Cassini discovered Enceladus’s geysers in 2005, which shoot hundreds of miles into space.
Scientists then found out ten years later the moon had a vast ocean buried 19- to 25 miles (30- to 40 km) beneath its icy shell.
The ocean is believed to be the geysers’ source.
Several moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn are known to contain underground oceans, but Enceladus is the only one where scientists have found proof of an energy source for life.
‘We’re moving towards Enceladus’s ocean being habitable, but we’re not making any claims at this point about it being inhabited,’ lead author Hunter Waite, with the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, said in an interview.
‘The next time we go back … you’re going to take something that not only picks up on the habitability story, but it starts looking for evidence for life.’