The team says the moon has the sources needed for life, but what needs to be established is if it has enough time to evolve life.
"The new finding is finding hydrogen coming from the plume of Enceladus", said Spilker, "and it could support potentially microbes with energy on the seafloor of Enceladus".
"It's another great day of science", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, told reporters.
That chemical, detected by the Cassini spacecraft, is molecular hydrogen (H2), which is produced by hydrothermal vents in the Earth's sea floor that are harbors for microbial life.
Such emissions are seen as a key factor that likely spurred the development of life on Earth, because the gas combines with the carbon dioxide in water to provide metabolic energy.
Cassini has no instruments that can detect life, so it will be up to future robotic visitors to seek out possible life on Enceladus, the scientists said. "It would be like a candy store for microbes", said Hunter Waite, lead author of the study appearing today in the journal Science.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft detected the presence of molecular hydrogen in water plumes erupting from Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, the USA space agency announced Thursday, suggesting that the distant world has nearly all the conditions necessary for life.
Cassini is slated to take a death plunge into Saturn's atmosphere in September, after it takes a final flyby of the giant moon Titan and a performs a series of 22 dives between the planet and its rings. "Although we can not detect life, we have found that there is a food source there for it", said lead author of the Cassini study Hunter Waite.
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Chemical analysis of the plume suggested conditions favourable for methanogenesis - the generation of methane by microbes that use hydrogen and carbon dioxide to obtain energy.
One of Saturn's small, white moons has the flawless conditions for life in its icy crust-covered ocean.
Cassini has detected hydrogen molecules in vapour plumes emanating from cracks in the surface of Enceladus, a small ocean moon coated in a thick layer of ice, the USA space agency said.
However, in a major breakthrough, two of NASA's veteran missions have found compelling evidence of life on one of Saturn's moon Enceladus. New observations from NASA's Galileo spacecraft suggests Europa's plume, like the plumes on Enceladus, is associated with warmer temperature readings. Plumes of water vapor spew from cracks at the moon's south pole.
Scientists observed similar plumes on Jupiter's moon Europa.
In a press release for the briefing, NASA noted that the new results will affect the space agency's multi-billion-dollar Europa Clipper mission.
The finding is a welcomed surprise for the Cassini mission, which wasn't launched with the intent of finding signs of worlds that could support life.