Jupiter Moon Lakes Might Support Life

Vast lakes lie just beneath Europa's icy surface: Scientists

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 17, 2011 1:10 AM CST | Updated Nov 17, 2011 5:17 AM CST

(Newser) – The chances of life existing on Jupiter's ice-covered moon Europa—and of Earthlings being able to find it—are looking a lot stronger, NASA scientists say. A vast ocean is believed to lie beneath as much as 20 miles of ice on Europa, but new research suggests that huge lakes exist a lot closer to the surface. A suspected interchange of water between the lakes and the ocean means that nutrients could be transferred from near the surface to life far below, the BBC reports.

The research team examined bumps known as "chaos terrain" on Europa's surface and developed models based on the way ice moves around on Earth. If the researchers are right, "you've moved from a system that checks one of the requirements for life to a system that checks two requirements for life," an astrobiologist tells the Christian Science Monitor. The only way to confirm the findings would be to send a spacecraft to Europa to investigate. A mission is on the drawing board but NASA hasn't approved anything yet, CNN notes.

Europa has long been considered one of the places in the solar system likeliest to hold extraterrestrial life.
Europa has long been considered one of the places in the solar system likeliest to hold extraterrestrial life.   (AP Photo/Jet Propulsion Lab)
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