JUPITER'S MOON MAY HOLD SECRET SEA OF LIFE
By Nick Flowers
EUROPA, one of Jupiter's largest moons, may have an ocean under its icy layer bearing exotic life quite different from our own, scientists reported yesterday.
Professor Steven Squyres, of Cornell University, told the 1996 Committee for Space Research, meeting in Birmingham [July 18], that he based his claim on evidence from an analysis of Voyager spacecraft images.
These showed a smooth surface, nearly devoid of the craters seen on Jupiter's other ice moons, but criss-crossed with a lattice of fractures strikingly similar to ridges seen on Antarctic ice.
Prof Squyres conjured up a scenario similar to the Arthur C Clarke novel, 2061, where the icy moon is in a continual tug of war between the gravity of Jupiter, Io and Ganymede -- two other moons of Jupiter. The friction from the tidal forces heats the planet and keeps water liquid about a rocky core under the ice.
Research suggests that this might be up to 65 miles thick in places, full of organic compounds and salts, making it one of the most promising places in the solar system beyond the Earth to search for life, even though it would be blocked from life-giving sunlight.
He speculates that biological activity may instead be powered by geothermal heat at the centre of the planet -- much like thermophillic, heat-loving bacteria and isolated biological communities recently discovered near submarine volcanoes on Earth.
It is hoped that data coming from the Galileo space probe in the next month will yield clues as to the presence of an ocean on Europa -- perhaps even detecting geyser-like eruptions from an ocean below the ice.
Original file name: .CNI - Life on Europa??
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