Space scientists have discovered the vital ingredients for life on a peculiar moon that is shaped like a bath sponge.
Photos from Nasa’s Cassini spaceprobe show that Hyperion is possibly the strangest world in the solar system. Just 220 miles across, and made of ice and rock, it looks like a cosmic loofah.
Cassini peered into the cup-like craters to detect the basic building blocks for life.
Planetary scientist Dale Cruikshank, of Nasa’s Ames centre in California, said: “Of special interest is the presence on Hyperion of hydrocarbons – combinations of carbon and hydrogen atoms that are found in comets, meteorites, and the dust in our galaxy.
“These molecules, when embedded in ice and exposed to ultraviolet light, form new molecules of biological significance.”
Cruikshank added: “This doesn’t mean that we have found life, but it is a further indication that the basic chemistry needed for life is widespread in the universe.”
Cassini’s instruments mapped Hyperion’s mineral and chemical features, confirming the presence of frozen water and finding it mixed with solid carbon dioxide, or dry ice.
Cassini made the observations, reported this week in the journal Nature, in 2005. It has also been sending back amazing images of Saturn itself such as this psychedelic shot which we covered last month and a stunning view down on the planet and its rings.