A tiny, ice-encrusted ocean world orbiting Saturn is now a hotter-than-ever candidate for potential life.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected hydrogen molecules in the geysers shooting off the moon Enceladus, possibly the result of deep-sea chemical reactions between water and rock that could spark microbial life.
The findings were announced Thursday in the journal Science.
NASA and others are quick to point out this latest discovery does not mean there's life on Enceladus, but that there may be conditions favorable for life.
"Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
A liquid ocean exists beneath the icy surface of Enceladus, which is barely 300 miles (500 kilometers) across. Plumes of water vapor spew from cracks at the moon's south pole.