Researchers in Austria have found evidence that there could be life inside of the solar system beyond our planet. They are reporting that a species of methane-producing microbes found on Earth may also be thriving on a moon that orbits Saturn.
Enceladus is an ice-covered moon that contains many of the components necessary for life, making it a popular target for research. The moon has a warm ocean just beneath its surface, as well as mysterious cracks at it southernmost point that release compounds including methane, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide.
Microorganisms on Earth use these compounds for growth, and the researchers believe that it is possible that there are microbes living in the underground ocean of Enceladus.
The team theorizes that microbes called methanogenic archaea could be using carbon dioxide and hydrogen for development, and then expelling the methane that surrounds Enceladus.
For their investigation, the scientists grew three methanogenic archaea in the lab. Two of the microorganisms were from regions near Iceland and Japan that were isolated from Earth’s hydrothermal vent systems, while the third was a control species.
The experts exposed the microbes to harsh conditions that represented those found on Enceladus. The study revealed that one type of methanogenic archaea could survive even in the presence of extremely harsh chemicals like formaldehyde.
The researchers also found that a process called low-temperature serpentinisation, which is believed to occur at the core of Enceladus, could generate enough hydrogen to promote microbial life.
Dr. Simon Rittmann is a senior scientist in the Department of Ecogenomics and Systems Biology at the University of Vienna and the study’s lead author.
“If you know where these microbes survive on Earth, the results are not that surprising,” Dr. Rittmann told MailOnline. “These organisms have a very special and ancient physiology – they are one of the first evolutionary developments on this planet. Our results suggest that these organisms or similar could exist on Enceladus.”
The study is published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer