When it comes to alien life forms, speculations go running on a wild horse. So much so that Researchers and Scientists had to develop a scale (Rio Scale) to gauge the extent to which an alien news is true. That being said,
“The Universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” I love this quote by Carl Sagan. The universe is a big place, agreed. So let’s start searching for alien life forms in our own solar system first, shan’t we?
That was exactly what a bunch of German Scientists did and what they found was published in a paper. Now, let me make one thing really clear, when we say “searching”, we mean searching, and not just keeping an ear out for Vegans with a design for a gigantic pretzel. This means that alien life form can also be more primitive than we are.
Enceladus, one of the many moons of Saturn, is capable of supporting oceanic alien life. According to researchers, Enceladus has the three magical elements required for supporting life – water, organic molecules and a source of energy. What kinds of alien life forms you ask? Microscopic.
Methanothermococcus okinawensis is a methanogen, type of archaea (a kind of single-organism distinct from both bacteria and eukaryotes) which convert molecular hydrogen and carbon dioxide into methane. Considerable amounts of methane was found on Enceladus, and this was all recorded by Cassini, the space probe designed to study Saturn and its rings.
An experiment was conducted by Simon Rittmann, who studies single-celled microorganisms at the University of Vienna and his team. In this experiment, the team cultivated several methanogens under gas compositions and pressures similar to Enceladus’, but only M. okinawensis survived when they simulated the moon’s environment. So, if we were to throw in some of the methanogens in water jets of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, M. okinawensis stands a great chance of surviving.
Till today, methanogenic archaea are the only known microorganisms that are capable of performing biological CH4 production in the absence of oxygen.
However, we cannot pin this reason as the proof of existence of methane on Enceladus. There are many ways methane can be made. Some hydrothermal vents on Earth can also produce methane without life and even comets have shown traces of methane in them. The data collected on methane formation by living organisms can be used to tell a space probe what to look for when searching for a life form. If the methane signatures match, et voila! we have ourselves aliens in our own solar system! Disappointed that I didn’t talk about little green men?
So, sit tight, and keep listening to your radio static, maybe one day you’ll be beckoned by ginormous purple people of betelgeuse.