Saturn’s Icy Moon Contains Oxygen But Lacks Life Supporting Density

James Johnson - Author
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Jun. 16 2013, Updated 12:04 a.m. ET

Two years ago NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flew by Saturn’s icy moon of Dione and now scientists have revealed the spacecraft’s best find from the moon, oxygen.

The discovery matches a previous theory by scientists which suggests that the moons near Saturn and Jupiter have easily detectable oxygen levels surrounding them.

Published in Geophysical Research Letters co-author Andrew Coates of University College London says Dione has no liquid water or ability to support life because of issues regarding density and liquid water, however the find could mean moons on Jupiter and Saturn have the right conditions to support some type of life.

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To determine the presence of oxygen Cassini flew over Dione with instruments that detected a thin layer of oxygen around the moon. While the discover is a significant find scientists admit that the thin layer of oxygen is merely an exosphere rather than a sustainable atmosphere.

Scientists are most interested in the process around the solar system’s gas giants (Saturn and Jupiter) in which oxygen becomes released from icy satellites.

According to the BBC:

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It seems that highly charged particles from the planets’ powerful radiation belts split the water in the ice into hydrogen and oxygen.

Dione’s sister moon, Enceladus is thought to harbour a liquid ocean below its icy surface. The same is thought to be true of Europa, Callisto and Ganymede which orbit Jupiter.

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The finding has also given Coates and his fellow researchers a reason to petition the European Space Agency to send an orbiter to explore Jupiter’s ice moons.

In the meantime NASA officials are working on a landing craft or lander that can float on one of the planet’s may oily lakes.

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