Podcaster: Richard Drumm
Title: Space Scoop: Could Life Exist on One of Saturn’s Moons?
Organization: 365 Days Of Astronomy
Description: Space scoop, news for children.
Our Universe is going to continue expanding faster and faster, possibly heading towards a “Big Rip”.
In 22 billion years, the same energy source that is pushing space to accelerate its expansion could literally tear apart all the galaxies, stars and even the atoms in our Universe!
Bio: Richard Drumm is President of the Charlottesville Astronomical Society and President of 3D – Drumm Digital Design, a video production company with clients such as Kodak, Xerox and GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals. He was an observer with the UVa Parallax Program at McCormick Observatory in 1981 & 1982. He has found that his greatest passion in life is public outreach astronomy and he pursues it at every opportunity.
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This is the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Today we bring you a new episode in our Space Scoop series. This show is produced in collaboration with Universe Awareness, a program that strives to inspire every child with our wonderful cosmos.
Could Life Exist on One of Saturn’s Moons?
After many years of searching, there’s still only one place in the Universe we’ve managed to find life.
Heh. Yeah, Earth.
But if you’re an alien life enthusiast, don’t despair. There are other places in the Solar System that are looking more and more suitable for life.
One of these places is a tiny, icy moon at Saturn called Enceladus.
Since 2005, it’s been suspected that Enceladus has an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy surface.
Water is essential for life, second only to the numerous carbon compounds that make up living creatures. We call these ‘complex organic molecules’.
Now, by studying data from the Cassini probe, scientists have found that Enceladus is not only home to water, but it also has some of these complex organic molecules.
While a handful of worlds are thought to have liquid water oceans, Enceladus actually sprays its ocean out into space where the Cassini spacecraft was able to sample it.
The water that’s sprayed out quickly freezes. Ice particles from these jets actually feed and replenish Saturn’s E ring!
Although the Cassini mission ended in September, 2017, it left behind a lot of data about the icy plumes. While poring through this information scientists found signs of organic molecules.
What’s really exciting is that these chemicals could be produced by living creatures under the icy surface of Enceladus!
But, it’s important to note that it’s more likely that they’re produced by other processes, particularly hydrothermal vents, so it’s not even close to being a slam dunk sign of alien life.
Enceladus’s ocean floor appears to be covered in hot springs. The high pressure and warm temperatures around these hot springs makes it a breeding ground for complex organic molecules.
These are then carried to the surface by bubbles of gas. Just like here on Earth.
So, while we haven’t found extraterrestrial life yet, Enceladus is looking pretty promising – watch this, uh, space!
Hey Here’s A Cool Fact:The hydrothermal vents here on Earth support complex communities that are fueled by the dissolved minerals in the superheated seawater that flows out of the vents.
Other life on Earth gets its energy for its metabolism from sunlight. Plants use chlorophyll to assemble larger organic molecules from carbon dioxide and minerals from the soil. Animals of all types ultimately use plants for their energy.
But sunlight doesn’t penetrate down here at the hydrothermal vents. The energy comes from inside the planet, from residual heat from the Earth’s formation and nuclear decay.
There is 10,000 to 100,000 times more biomass at the vents than there is elsewhere on the sea floor. The life at the vents depends on chemosynthetic bacteria for their food.
These bacteria use hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur molecules in their chemosynthetic metabolism.
The life forms that thrive here in this hellish place are crabs, snails, shrimp, annelid worms, some eels, various crustaceans and tube worms.
Siboglinid tube worms, you see, don’t have a mouth or even any digestive tract. They absorb nutrients produced by bacteria located in an organ in the worm called the trophosome.
Approximately 285 billion of these bacteria are found in a single ounce of trophosome tissue.
Tubeworms have frilly red bits on their top which contain hemoglobin which combines with hydrogen sulfide, transferring it to the bacteria in the worm. The bacteria also oxidize methane and from that feed the worm various carbon compounds.
Clearly this is a symbiotic relationship, but we don’t yet know the full extent of the arrangement between the worms and the bacteria.
Life finds a way, huh?
Thank you for listening to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast!
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365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by Planetary Science Institute. Audio post-production by Richard Drumm. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. This year we will celebrates the Year of Everyday Astronomers as we embrace Amateur Astronomer contributions and the importance of citizen science. Join us and share your story. Until tomorrow! Goodbye!