Pakistani-German astrobiologist Dr. Nozair Khawaja, together with his group of American and German researchers, discovered a crucial organic molecule on Enceladus, one of the 62 moons around the Saturn.
The groundbreaking creation itself revolves around the discovery on one of Saturn’s 62 satellites of an organic molecule, believed to be a requirement for life’s nature. Experts believe that the finding makes Enceladus a popular candidate for extra-terrestrial life.
“A Cassini Spacecraft was sent to Saturn system in 2004 and since then we have been continuously analysing the data from Cassini and trying to characterise the material from Enceladus,” said Dr Khawaja while speaking on SAMAA TV’s programme Naya Din on Monday.
“Although the Cassini spacecraft did a remarkable job during its voyage, the instruments onboard the spacecraft were built a long time ago, and now with advanced technology, we can explore Enceladus’ ocean in more detail”, he added.
“After the end of the Cassini space mission in September 2017, we went back to Enceladus with advanced instruments to see if there is extraterrestrial life”, Dr Khawaja said.
“Science is all about analysis and experimentation. We have a lot of data from the Cassini spacecraft and I am still working on it,” he remarked. “We are trying to connect all the missing puzzles of this mysterious moon.”
Dr. Khawaja clarified that Enceladus is very far from the Sun and that Enceladus ‘ surface temperature is extremely cold, about -200 ° C, which means that Enceladus ‘ human colonization is not feasible.
“All the moons of Saturn are extremely cold. When we talk about lifeon Enceladus, we are talking about its sub-surface,” explained the scientist. “There is an ocean on the subsurface of Saturn’s Enceladus, which keeps it in contact with the rocky surface.”
“We cannot say for sure that the origin of these molecules in living organisms, nor can we say that that life exists on Enceladus. Instead, we proposed that these molecules originated from hydrothermal vents inside Enceladus. Such a hydrothermal system also exists in the Earth’s ocean where microbial life exists. Therefore, the origins of these molecules are undecided but they have astrobiological potential.”
Dr. Khawaja and his team found from the depths of Enceladus a small but soluble and reactive organic compound.
“The compound from the ocean of Enceladus is already a known ingredient of amino acids found in the oceans of Earth,” he said.
Amino acids are the organic compounds known for almost every creature on Earth as the building blocks of life. Different types of amino acids play an important role in the processing of proteins, metabolism, hormone synthesis and neurotransmitters from the brain to the human body.
Dr. Khawaja was born in Wazirabad in Punjab. He graduated from Punjab University with his Masters in Astronomy and Space Sciences. The Pakistani scientist later graduated from Heidelberg University in Germany with a PhD in Geosciences. He also worked for the same German university as a post-doctoral scholar at the Institute of Earth Sciences.
He has completed a detailed life study beyond Earth and is a leading figure in many research programs.
In 2019, for Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer, NASA awarded Dr. Khawaja with the ‘ Team Achievement Award. ‘ He is also a 2018 winner of the European Astrobiology Network Association’s Horneck-Brack Prize.