NASA astrophysicist Thomas Zurbachen told the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology today that its latest mission showed that one of Saturn’s moons is capable of hosting aquatic alien life.
He said this means that if it proves true the chances of life being elsewhere in the Universe or vastly increased.
The Cassini space probe has analysed Enceladus and found hydrothermal reaction are happening between water and rock below its icy surface.
This is the process that is needed to happen for the most simplistic forms of life to begin.
Another probe will now investigate if the most simplistic form of life – micro organisms – are present on Enceladus.
Mr Zurbachen said if this is the case, then there must be alien life in other parts of the universe.
Mr Zurbachen said: “For example, just two weeks ago, NASA’s Cassini mission confirmed the presence of hydrogen from plumes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus while our Hubble Space Telescope team announced the second observation of possible plumes near the equator of Jupiter’s moon Europa.
“Both discoveries display the potential for life-enabling energy sources in oceans hidden from view under an icy crest, a confirmation of which would be significant to all of NASA.
“That’s because scientists believe the plumes are spewing from cracks in these moons’ icy shells with material indicative of hydrothermal activity on their ocean floor; and we know that within many hydrothermal vents in our deep oceans on Earth, we find life.
“Scientists are currently debating if life may have originated at locations like these.”
He said the question of life outside Earth was “one of the greatest questions of our time.”
He added: “While we haven’t found definitive signs of life elsewhere just yet, our search is making remarkable progress and astrobiology is a focus of a growing number of NASA missions.”
Mr Zurbachen also said NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has found evidence that ancient Mars also had the right chemistry to have supported microbial life.
NASA has now found 3,475 exoplanets, which are the right distance from their sun to potentially support life.
He added: “With all of this activity related to the search for life, in so many different areas, we are on the verge of one of the most profound discoveries, ever.”