NASA Says Saturn’s Moon Has “The Ingredients Necessary For a Habitable Environment”

by Karla Lant


A New Discovery

NASA just released evidence that a liquid water ocean that could support life lies beneath the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The agency reports that the world has many of the “ingredients needed for a habitable environment.”

Thanks to Cassini, organic chemicals—carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur—which are the basic building blocks of life, were seen spraying forth from the “tiger stripe” cracks on the cold surface of the moon.

Additionally, in the paper published in Science, which comes from researchers on the Cassini mission, it was revealed that molecular hydrogen, which NASA notes, “could potentially provide a chemical energy source for life,” is pouring into the ocean on Enceladus via hydrothermal vents on the seafloor.

It has almost all of the ingredients you would need to support life as we know it.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Peter Girguis, a deep sea biologist at Harvard who is not associated with the research, noted the significance in relation to discovering microbial life: “For a microbiologist thinking about energy for microbes, hydrogen is like the gold coin of energy currency. If you had to have one thing, one chemical compound, coming out of a vent that would lead you to think there’s energy to support microbial life, hydrogen is at the top of that list.”

“Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth,” added Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a NASA press release. “We now know that Enceladus has almost all of the ingredients you would need to support life as we know it on Earth,” she continued.

Water Means Life

To clarify, water, which supports and cradles life on Earth, is abundant in our solar system. As University of Michigan planetary scientist Sushil Atreya told Scientific American, water is necessary for life-as-we-know-it for a number of important reasons: “Liquid water acts as a solvent, as a medium and as a catalyst for certain types of proteins, and those are three main things that allow life to flourish.”

Indeed, everywhere that we find water on Earth, we find life—and enough water appears to be on this world, and in the proper conditions, that it seems likely that we will find alien life there.

“The way the jets react so responsively to changing stresses on Enceladus suggests they have their origins in a large body of liquid water,” Christophe Sotin co-author and Cassini team member said in the NASA release. “Liquid water was key to the development of life on Earth, so these discoveries whet the appetite to know whether life exists everywhere water is present” (pun, probably, intended).

“Although we can’t detect life, we’ve found that there’s a food source there for it. It would be like a candy store for microbes,” said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study.

In a statement, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington, succinctly summarized the significance of the find: “This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment. These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.”

An All-Electric Vehicle Just Reached 217 MPH in a High-Speed Test

Lucid Motors
In Brief
Automaker Lucid Motors just shared a clip of its all-electric Alpha Speed Car clocking a speed of 217 mph. This achievement demonstrates the ability of electric cars to meet the same performance standards set by their traditional counterparts.

One Super-Fast EV

Lucid Motors just unveiled its luxury Lucid Air and an Alpha Speed Car prototype during the annual New York International Auto Show. Now, the California-based luxury automaker has shared a video of the vehicle’s first high-speed stability test.

During the test at the Transportation Research Center test track in Ohio, the all-electric Alpha Speed Car clocked a speed of 350 kmh (217 mph). That’s the same as a Ferrari LaFerrari.

These tests are relevant to the engineering process of the vehicle as they will allow the team to combine computer simulation models with real-world data to improve performance. According to Lucid Motors’ website:

The test, software-limited to 217 mph (350 km/h), was successful in demonstrating the capabilities of the car and in finding areas for improvement that could not be properly evaluated in static bench tests […] The collected data will now be used to finesse thermal and aero computer simulations and to make further performance improvements that will be tested later this year at higher speeds.

The company assures potential drivers, however, that the Air is more than just fast: “High-speed capability does not compromise our mission to develop a highly efficient vehicle. On the contrary, the focus on maximizing range provides the high power and aerodynamic efficiency that enables higher speeds.”

The Lucid Air is scheduled for production in 2019 and is largely considered a strong competitor for Tesla’s Model S. Priced at $52,500, the vehicle is expected to come equipped with autonomous-ready hardware. It will have a 400-mile range, a 1,000-horsepower engine, and a strong focus on passenger comfort and luxury.

Rise of Electric Vehicles

All Electric Cars: What’s My Range? [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

The diversity of electric vehicles (EV) coming onto the market demonstrates the increased demand for electric alternatives to traditional high-performance transport.

If we really want to reduce carbon emissions, ending our reliance on traditional forms of transportation is one way to do it, so the arrival of numerous EV options is certainly welcome. In addition, many of these cars are being built with advanced autonomous capabilities, which could mean that traffic jams, a perennial problem in urban areas, will be considerably reduced.

Furthermore, the government’s support for self-driving technology is drawn from its potential to help address common pedestrian and road safety issues. Given that most traffic-related accidents and fatalities are caused by human error, the rise of autonomous vehicles on the road would ultimately save lives.

Author June Javelosa April 13, 2017
Editor Kristin Houser
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