High-temperature water-rock interactions and hydrothermal environments in the chondrite-like core of Enceladus.
ABSTRACT: It has been suggested that Saturn's moon Enceladus possesses a subsurface ocean. The recent discovery of silica nanoparticles derived from Enceladus shows the presence of ongoing hydrothermal reactions in the interior. Here, we report results from detailed laboratory experiments to constrain the reaction conditions. To sustain the formation of silica nanoparticles, the composition of Enceladus' core needs to be similar to that of carbonaceous chondrites. We show that the presence of hydrothermal reactions would be consistent with NH3- and CO2-rich plume compositions. We suggest that high reaction temperatures (>50 °C) are required to form silica nanoparticles whether Enceladus' ocean is chemically open or closed to the icy crust. Such high temperatures imply either that Enceladus formed shortly after the formation of the solar system or that the current activity was triggered by a recent heating event. Under the required conditions, hydrogen production would proceed efficiently, which could provide chemical energy for chemoautotrophic life.
Project description:The detection of silica-rich dust particles, as an indication for ongoing hydrothermal activity, and the presence of water and organic molecules in the plume of Enceladus, have made Saturn's icy moon a hot spot in the search for potential extraterrestrial life. Methanogenic archaea are among the organisms that could potentially thrive under the predicted conditions on Enceladus, considering that both molecular hydrogen (H2) and methane (CH4) have been detected in the plume. Here we show that a methanogenic archaeon, Methanothermococcus okinawensis, can produce CH4 under physicochemical conditions extrapolated for Enceladus. Up to 72% carbon dioxide to CH4 conversion is reached at 50?bar in the presence of potential inhibitors. Furthermore, kinetic and thermodynamic computations of low-temperature serpentinization indicate that there may be sufficient H2 gas production to serve as a substrate for CH4 production on Enceladus. We conclude that some of the CH4 detected in the plume of Enceladus might, in principle, be produced by methanogens.
Project description:Spacecraft observations suggest that the plumes of Saturn's moon Enceladus draw water from a subsurface ocean, but the sustainability of conduits linking ocean and surface is not understood. Observations show eruptions from "tiger stripe" fissures that are sustained (although tidally modulated) throughout each orbit, and since the 2005 discovery of the plumes. Peak plume flux lags peak tidal extension by ?1 rad, suggestive of resonance. Here, we show that a model of the tiger stripes as tidally flexed slots that puncture the ice shell can simultaneously explain the persistence of the eruptions through the tidal cycle, the phase lag, and the total power output of the tiger stripe terrain, while suggesting that eruptions are maintained over geological timescales. The delay associated with flushing and refilling of O(1)-m-wide slots with ocean water causes erupted flux to lag tidal forcing and helps to buttress slots against closure, while tidally pumped in-slot flow leads to heating and mechanical disruption that staves off slot freezeout. Much narrower and much wider slots cannot be sustained. In the presence of long-lived slots, the 10(6)-y average power output of the tiger stripes is buffered by a feedback between ice melt-back and subsidence to O(10(10)) W, which is similar to observed power output, suggesting long-term stability. Turbulent dissipation makes testable predictions for the final flybys of Enceladus by Cassini Our model shows how open connections to an ocean can be reconciled with, and sustain, long-lived eruptions. Turbulent dissipation in long-lived slots helps maintain the ocean against freezing, maintains access by future Enceladus missions to ocean materials, and is plausibly the major energy source for tiger stripe activity.
Project description:There is interest in the role of ammonia on Saturn's moons Titan and Enceladus as the presence of water, methane, and ammonia under temperature and pressure conditions of the surface and interior make these moons rich environments for the study of phases formed by these materials. Ammonia is known to form solid hemi-, mono-, and dihydrate crystal phases under conditions consistent with the surface of Titan and Enceladus, but has also been assigned a role as water-ice antifreeze and methane hydrate inhibitor which is thought to contribute to the outgassing of methane clathrate hydrates into these moons' atmospheres. Here we show, through direct synthesis from solution and vapor deposition experiments under conditions consistent with extraterrestrial planetary atmospheres, that ammonia forms clathrate hydrates and participates synergistically in clathrate hydrate formation in the presence of methane gas at low temperatures. The binary structure II tetrahydrofuran + ammonia, structure I ammonia, and binary structure I ammonia + methane clathrate hydrate phases synthesized have been characterized by X-ray diffraction, molecular dynamics simulation, and Raman spectroscopy methods.
Project description:Enceladus presents an excellent opportunity to detect organic molecules that are relevant for habitability as well as bioorganic molecules that provide evidence for extraterrestrial life because Enceladus' plume is composed of material from the subsurface ocean that has a high habitability potential and significant organic content. A primary challenge is to send instruments to Enceladus that can efficiently sample organic molecules in the plume and analyze for the most relevant molecules with the necessary detection limits. To this end, we present the scientific feasibility and engineering design of the Enceladus Organic Analyzer (EOA) that uses a microfluidic capillary electrophoresis system to provide sensitive detection of a wide range of relevant organic molecules, including amines, amino acids, and carboxylic acids, with ppm plume-detection limits (100 pM limits of detection). Importantly, the design of a capture plate that effectively gathers plume ice particles at encounter velocities from 200?m/s to 5 km/s is described, and the ice particle impact is modeled to demonstrate that material will be efficiently captured without organic decomposition. While the EOA can also operate on a landed mission, the relative technical ease of a fly-by mission to Enceladus, the possibility to nondestructively capture pristine samples from deep within the Enceladus ocean, plus the high sensitivity of the EOA instrument for molecules of bioorganic relevance for life detection argue for the inclusion of EOA on Enceladus missions. Key Words: Lab-on-a-chip-Organic biomarkers-Life detection-Planetary exploration. Astrobiology 17, 902-912.
Project description:The orbits of Saturn's inner mid-sized moons (Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, and Rhea) have been notably difficult to reconcile with their geology. Here, we present numerical simulations coupling thermal, geophysical, and simplified orbital evolution for 4.5 billion years that reproduce observed characteristics of their orbits and interiors, provided that the outer four moons are old. Tidal dissipation within Saturn expands the moons' orbits over time. Dissipation within the moons decreases their eccentricities, which are episodically increased by moon-moon interactions, causing past or present oceans in the interior of Enceladus, Dione, and Tethys. In contrast, Mimas' proximity to Saturn's rings generates interactions that cause such rapid orbital expansion that Mimas must have formed only 0.1-1 Gyr ago if it postdates the rings. The resulting lack of radionuclides keeps it geologically inactive. These simulations can explain the Mimas-Enceladus dichotomy, reconcile the moons' orbital properties and geological diversity, and self-consistently produce a recent ocean on Enceladus.
Project description:The Solar System is becoming increasingly accessible to exploration by robotic missions to search for life. However, astrobiologists currently lack well-defined frameworks to quantitatively assess the chemical space accessible to life in these alien environments. Such frameworks will be critical for developing concrete predictions needed for future mission planning, both to determine the potential viability of life on other worlds and to anticipate the molecular biosignatures that life could produce. Here, we describe how uniting existing methods provides a framework to study the accessibility of biochemical space across diverse planetary environments. Our approach combines observational data from planetary missions with genomic data catalogued from across Earth and analyzed using computational methods from network theory. To demonstrate this, we use 307 biochemical networks generated from genomic data collected across Earth and "seed" these networks with molecules confirmed to be present on Saturn's moon Enceladus. By expanding through known biochemical reaction space starting from these seed compounds, we are able to determine which products of Earth's biochemistry are, in principle, reachable from compounds available in the environment on Enceladus, and how this varies across different examples of life from Earth (organisms, ecosystems, planetary-scale biochemistry). While we find that none of the 307 prokaryotes analyzed meet the threshold for viability, the reaction space covered by this process can provide a map of possible targets for detection of Earth-like life on Enceladus, as well as targets for synthetic biology approaches to seed life on Enceladus. In cases where biochemistry is not viable because key compounds are missing, we identify the environmental precursors required to make it viable, thus providing a set of compounds to prioritize for detection in future planetary exploration missions aimed at assessing the ability of Enceladus to sustain Earth-like life or directed panspermia.
Project description:The icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn are perhaps the most promising places in the Solar System regarding habitability. However, the potential habitable environments are hidden underneath km-thick ice shells. The discovery of Enceladus' plume by the Cassini mission has provided vital clues in our understanding of the processes occurring within the interior of exooceans. To interpret these data and to help configure instruments for future missions, controlled laboratory experiments and simulations are needed. This review aims to bring together studies and experimental designs from various scientific fields currently investigating the icy moons, including planetary sciences, chemistry, (micro-)biology, geology, glaciology, etc. This chapter provides an overview of successful in situ, in silico, and in vitro experiments, which explore different regions of interest on icy moons, i.e. a potential plume, surface, icy shell, water and brines, hydrothermal vents, and the rocky core.
Project description:Lipids and amino acids are regarded as important biomarkers for the search for extraterrestrial life in the Solar System. Such biomarkers may be used to trace methanogenic life on other planets or moons in the Solar System, such as Saturn's icy moon Enceladus. However, little is known about the environmental conditions shaping the synthesis of lipids and amino acids. Here, we present the lipid production and amino acid excretion patterns of the methanogenic archaeon <i>Methanothermococcus okinawensis</i> after exposing it to different multivariate concentrations of the inhibitors ammonium, formaldehyde, and methanol present in the Enceladian plume. <i>M. okinawensis</i> shows different patterns of lipid and amino acids excretion, depending on the amount of these inhibitors in the growth medium. While methanol did not show a significant impact on growth, lipid or amino acid production rates, ammonium and formaldehyde strongly affected these parameters. These findings are important for understanding the eco-physiology of methanogens on Earth and have implications for the use of biomarkers as possible signs of extraterrestrial life for future space missions in the Solar System.
Project description:The presence and accessibility of a sub-ice-surface saline ocean at Enceladus, together with geothermal activity and a rocky core, make it a compelling location to conduct further, in-depth, astrobiological investigations to probe for organic molecules indicative of extraterrestrial life. Cryovolcanic plumes in the south polar region of Enceladus enable the use of remote in situ sampling and analysis techniques. However, efficient plume sampling and the transportation of captured organic materials to an organic analyzer present unique challenges for an Enceladus mission. A systematic study, accelerating organic ice-particle simulants into soft inert metal targets at velocities ranging 0.5-3.0 km s-1, was carried out using a light gas gun to explore the efficacy of a plume capture instrument. Capture efficiency varied for different metal targets as a function of impact velocity and particle size. Importantly, organic chemical compounds remained chemically intact in particles captured at speeds up to ~2 km s-1. Calibration plots relating the velocity, crater, and particle diameter were established to facilitate future ice-particle impact experiments where the size of individual ice particles is unknown.
Project description:Early Solar System planetesimal thermal models predict the heating of the chondritic protolith and the preservation of a chondritic crust on differentiated parent bodies. Petrological and geochemical analyses of chondrites have suggested that secondary alteration phases formed at low temperatures (<300?°C) by fluid-rock interaction where reduced and oxidized Vigarano type Carbonaceous (CV) chondrites witness different physicochemical conditions. From a thermodynamical survey of Ca-Fe-rich secondary phases in CV3 chondrites including silica activity (aSiO2), here we show that the classical distinction between reduced and oxidized chondrites is no longer valid and that their Ca-Fe-rich secondary phases formed in similar reduced conditions near the iron-magnetite redox buffer at low aSiO2 (log(aSiO2) <-1) and moderate temperature (210-610?°C). The various lithologies in CV3 chondrites are inferred to be fragments of an asteroid percolated heterogeneously via porous flow of hydrothermal fluid. Putative 'onion shell' structures are not anymore a requirement for the CV parent body crust.Meteorites may unlock the history of the early solar system. Here, the authors find, through Ca-Fe-rich secondary phases, that the distinction between reduced and oxidized CV chondrites is invalid; therefore, CV3 chondrites are asteroid fragments that percolated heterogeneously via porous flow of hydrothermal fluid.