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‘This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,’ said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington.‘These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA's science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.’ Observations in 2005 by the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini mission revealed plumes of water vapour and ice spraying into space from the south pole of Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn, as illustrated above Cassini, which made the major breakthrough using its mass spectrometer, will have a fiery end to its time in space.After orbiting Saturn for 13 years, its ‘grand finale’ mission will end in September when it is diverted to crash into Saturn and burn up.Cassini, on its final mission before it runs out of fuel and is allowed to burn up in space, was sent diving deep into the jets.Yesterday Nasa announced the spacecraft had found hydrogen as a gas, the form needed to support single-celled organisms, in the moon’s ocean.These microbes use hydrogen, which they cannot extract from water, like we use oxygen, to fuel their cells.

Scientists did not have to drill beneath the ice to examine the reservoir under the moon’s south pole, as its vapour erupted in plumes through cracks in the surface.

It means Enceladus may have the same single-celled organisms which began life on Earth, or more complex life still Professor David Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University, said: ‘Right now, we only know of life beginning once in the universe, here on Earth, which leaves us alone in the dark.

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