Organic materials from the subsurface oceans of Saturn’s moon Enceladus

The spacecraft Cassini has identified complex organic substances in material that comes from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. This finding supports the idea that the water beneath the ice of this moon harbors conditions that might be suitable for life.

The scientific investigation of the Cassini mission at Saturn (2004-2017) had revealed that the moon Enceladus possesses a large ocean beneath a thick ice crust, and material from the subsurface is ejected in a Geyser-like activity to space.

Now large organic molecules have been identified in the material ejected from the moon, a result that is reported today in a study published in the journal Nature, in which Jürgen Schmidt from the Astronomy Research Unit of the University of Oulu is involved.

This is the first detection of complex organic material coming from a water-world other than the Earth. The organics are thought to be fragments of still larger molecules that break when the material hits the instruments of Cassini at a velocity larger than 30000 km/h. Previously Cassini had only detected molecules that are much smaller than the now found fragments.

Together with a number of earlier discoveries made by the Cassini spacecraft this new result suggests that Enceladus is a potentially habitable water world.


Postberg, F., Khawaja, N., Abel, B., Choblet, G., Glein, C., Gudipati, M., Henderson, B., Hsu, H., Kempf, S., Klenner, F., Moragas-Klostermeyer, G., Magee, B., Nölle, L., Perry, M., Reviol, R., Schmidt, J., Srama, R., Stolz, F., Tobie, G., Trieloff, M., Waite, J. (2018) Macromolecular organic compounds from the depths of Enceladus. Nature, 558 (7711), 564-568. doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0246-4

More information: Jűrgen Schmidt, Professor of Astronomy, University of Oulu, Finland, e-mail: Jurgen.A.Schmidt(at) and jrschmid(at)

Cassini-Huygens mission

Illustration about the structure of  Enceladus


Last updated: 28.6.2018