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      Feasibility of Detecting Bioorganic Compounds in Enceladus Plumes with the Enceladus Organic Analyzer

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          Abstract

          Enceladus presents an excellent opportunity to detect organic molecules that are relevant for habitability as well as bioorganic molecules that provide evidence for extraterrestrial life because Enceladus' plume is composed of material from the subsurface ocean that has a high habitability potential and significant organic content. A primary challenge is to send instruments to Enceladus that can efficiently sample organic molecules in the plume and analyze for the most relevant molecules with the necessary detection limits. To this end, we present the scientific feasibility and engineering design of the Enceladus Organic Analyzer (EOA) that uses a microfluidic capillary electrophoresis system to provide sensitive detection of a wide range of relevant organic molecules, including amines, amino acids, and carboxylic acids, with ppm plume-detection limits (100 p M limits of detection). Importantly, the design of a capture plate that effectively gathers plume ice particles at encounter velocities from 200 m/s to 5 km/s is described, and the ice particle impact is modeled to demonstrate that material will be efficiently captured without organic decomposition. While the EOA can also operate on a landed mission, the relative technical ease of a fly-by mission to Enceladus, the possibility to nondestructively capture pristine samples from deep within the Enceladus ocean, plus the high sensitivity of the EOA instrument for molecules of bioorganic relevance for life detection argue for the inclusion of EOA on Enceladus missions. Key Words: Lab-on-a-chip—Organic biomarkers—Life detection—Planetary exploration. Astrobiology 17, 902–912.

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          Most cited references 69

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          Cassini observes the active south pole of Enceladus.

          Cassini has identified a geologically active province at the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus. In images acquired by the Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS), this region is circumscribed by a chain of folded ridges and troughs at approximately 55 degrees S latitude. The terrain southward of this boundary is distinguished by its albedo and color contrasts, elevated temperatures, extreme geologic youth, and narrow tectonic rifts that exhibit coarse-grained ice and coincide with the hottest temperatures measured in the region. Jets of fine icy particles that supply Saturn's E ring emanate from this province, carried aloft by water vapor probably venting from subsurface reservoirs of liquid water. The shape of Enceladus suggests a possible intense heating epoch in the past by capture into a 1:4 secondary spin/orbit resonance.
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            A serpentinite-hosted ecosystem: the Lost City hydrothermal field.

            The serpentinite-hosted Lost City hydrothermal field is a remarkable submarine ecosystem in which geological, chemical, and biological processes are intimately interlinked. Reactions between seawater and upper mantle peridotite produce methane- and hydrogen-rich fluids, with temperatures ranging from <40 degrees to 90 degrees C at pH 9 to 11, and carbonate chimneys 30 to 60 meters tall. A low diversity of microorganisms related to methane-cycling Archaea thrive in the warm porous interiors of the edifices. Macrofaunal communities show a degree of species diversity at least as high as that of black smoker vent sites along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, but they lack the high biomasses of chemosynthetic organisms that are typical of volcanically driven systems.
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              Cassini ion and neutral mass spectrometer: Enceladus plume composition and structure.

              The Cassini spacecraft passed within 168.2 kilometers of the surface above the southern hemisphere at 19:55:22 universal time coordinated on 14 July 2005 during its closest approach to Enceladus. Before and after this time, a substantial atmospheric plume and coma were observed, detectable in the Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) data set out to a distance of over 4000 kilometers from Enceladus. INMS data indicate that the atmospheric plume and coma are dominated by water, with significant amounts of carbon dioxide, an unidentified species with a mass-to-charge ratio of 28 daltons (either carbon monoxide or molecular nitrogen), and methane. Trace quantities (<1%) of acetylene and propane also appear to be present. Ammonia is present at a level that does not exceed 0.5%. The radial and angular distributions of the gas density near the closest approach, as well as other independent evidence, suggest a significant contribution to the plume from a source centered near the south polar cap, as distinct from a separately measured more uniform and possibly global source observed on the outbound leg of the flyby.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Astrobiology
                Astrobiology
                ast
                Astrobiology
                Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. (140 Huguenot Street, 3rd FloorNew Rochelle, NY 10801USA )
                1531-1074
                1557-8070
                01 September 2017
                01 September 2017
                01 September 2017
                : 17
                : 9
                : 902-912
                Affiliations
                [ 1 ]Department of Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley , Berkeley, California.
                [ 2 ]Department of Mechanical Engineering, Texas Tech University , Lubbock, Texas.
                [ 3 ]Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology , Atlanta, Georgia.
                [ 4 ]Berkeley Space Sciences Lab, University of California at Berkeley , Berkeley, California.
                Author notes
                Address correspondence to: Richard A. Mathies, Department of Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley 307 Lewis Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720, E-mail: ramathies@ 123456berkeley.edu
                Article
                10.1089/ast.2017.1660
                10.1089/ast.2017.1660
                5610425
                28915087
                © Richard A. Mathies et al., 2017; Published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

                This Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited.

                Page count
                Figures: 5, References: 71, Pages: 11
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