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Scientists Find Phosphorus - A Key Element For Life On A Saturn Moon

Scientists have discovered the sixth and last required element of life in ice grains ejected into space from Saturn's moon Enceladus' ocean. Basically, scientists find phosphorus on saturn's moon.

Rhyley Carney
Jun 18, 20234154 Shares75529 Views
Scientists have discovered the sixth and last required element of life in ice grains ejected into space from Saturn's moon Enceladus' ocean. Basically, scientists find phosphorus on Saturn's moon.
Previous research had found evidence of the other five elements required for life—carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur—in material from Enceladus' ocean, according to Marina Koren of the Atlantic.

Discovery Of Phosphorus On Saturn's Moon Enceladus

Researchers have now added phosphorous to that list, according to an article published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The presence of this ingredient is regarded to be the "strictest requirement of habitability," according to the paper's authors.
Frank Postberg, a co-author of the paper and a planetary scientist at the Free University of Berlin tells Vice's Becky Ferreira:
This was basically the last piece that was needed to finally, now, deem Enceladus’s ocean to be habitable without any doubt.- Frank Postberg
The discovery makes Enceladus "the most promising place, the lowest-hanging fruit, in our solar system to search for extraterrestrial life," according to Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist who was not involved in the research, in an interview with National Geographic's Charles Q. Choi.
Phosphorus is essential to life on Earth. It is the second most prevalent mineral in the human body, after calcium, and it is essential for the formation of bones, teeth, cell membranes, and DNA. The element is found in over 550 different minerals and is the 12th most abundant element in the Earth's crust.
Saturn's Moon with its powerful force
Saturn's Moon with its powerful force
According to the new report, astronomers had never previously found phosphorous in the ocean of another globe. It "is by far the least common in the universe," according to Postberg, among the six elements required for life.
The surprising discovery was made possible by data from the Cassini mission, which spent 13 years examining Saturn and its moons. Its mission concluded in 2017 with a dive into Saturn's atmosphere.
Enceladus soon emerged as an intriguing target for research as Cassini gathered data. The moon has an icy crust covering it, with its global ocean sandwiched between it and its rocky core.
Enceladus' eruptions send plumes of ice grains and gas into space through fissures in its crust. These expelled elements form Saturn's E ring, which Cassini can investigate to understand more about what's inside the enormous ocean.
The researchers studied Cassini's data on 345 ice grains from the E ring and found phosphates (phosphorus-containing chemical compounds) in nine of them. According to Vice, they discovered that phosphorus concentrations in Enceladus' water may be 100 times higher than in Earth's seas.
Manasvi Lingam, a physicist at the Florida Institute of Technology, submitted a report in 2018 arguing that Enceladus' oceans will have less phosphorus than Earth's.
Lingam, who was not engaged in the current study, tells Sharmila Kuthunur of Space.com that the discovery "overturns the findings from my past model.
Still, the team didn't know how Enceladus received such high levels of phosphates in the first place. So they conducted some laboratory studies that revealed the moon's water contains a lot of dissolved carbonates, similar to soda.
According to Katrina Miller of the New York Times, the so-called soda ocean can dissolve phosphate-filled rocks, resulting in high phosphate concentrations in the water.

Bill Nye breaks down 'extraordinary discovery' found on moon of Saturn

"No one would be surprised if there’s phosphate in the rock of Enceladus. There are phosphates on comets … it is not a big deal," says Postberg to Space.com. "The big deal is that it is dissolved in the ocean, and with that, [it’s] readily available for the potential formation of life."
According to National Geographic, the discoveries also suggest that oceans on similar worlds, such as Jupiter's moon Europa, may contain phosphorus. The question now is whether there is any life in this habitable ocean.
Postberg tells the New York Times:
We don’t know yet if this very habitable place is actually inhabited. But it is certainly worth looking.- Postberg
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