A team of scientists, using archival data from NASA’s now-retired Cassini mission, has discovered the presence of phosphorus in the massive plumes of water being ejected from the southern regions of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Phosphorus — a chemical element essential for life and often considered a building block for life — is locked inside of salt-rich ice grains ejected in these plumes.
The plumes themselves are thought to be caused by water from a subsurface ocean within Enceladus. The water from the ocean makes its way to space through several fissures in the southern surface regions of Enceladus. The resulting plumes have been studied by several spacecraft — including Cassini — and even created a ring around Saturn (known as the E ring).