SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. (Nov 13, 1996) -- Forget life on Mars. Scientists gathered here say the best bet for life in the solar system is Europa, which could have a hidden ocean 60 miles deep.
A moon of Jupiter, Europa is the only body in our solar system besides our own that might have an ocean harboring life, say scientists at the Europa Ocean Conference at the San Juan Capistrano Research Institute.
Many at the conference expressed enthusiasm for NASA's idea, unfunded so far, of sending a robotic spacecraft to the moon to test the ocean theory. NASA is looking for feedback on the concept.
"To find life, the best place in the solar system is the body that has an ocean," said Eugene Shoemaker, a planetary geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona.
"I think there's an even more important place to go than Mars. Europa is a better bet and it's more accessible. If there's life there, it ought not be hard to find."
So far, scientists have had to draw their conclusions about Europa from Voyager spacecraft images sent back in 1979 and others returned this year by the Galileo spacecraft. The photos show what could be a crust of icy slabs sliding on a layer of slush or water.
If so, the ocean would contain about three times as much water as the Earth.
Water is a necessary ingredient for life. So too is heat, and scientists here are debating the potential sources of heat and energy on Europa.
Heat-producing volcanoes could be erupting under water, much like the underwater volcanic sites on Earth's seafloor that are home to heat-loving bacteria.
But not everyone at the conference is convinced.
Some scientist suggest the photos indicate pockets of brine. They are reserving judgment on a new mission to Jupiter until Galileo makes another pass at Europa on December 19.
Others appear ready to go.
"Europa offers an attractive planetary target in the quest for extraterrestrial life," wrote John Delaney, a marine geologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, in an abstract released at the conference.
Original file name: .CNI - Europa Good for Life
This file was converted with TextToHTML - (c) Logic n.v.