August 13, 1996
Web posted at: 8:30 p.m. EDT
PASADENA, California (CNN) -- New data gathered by the
Galileo space probe indicate there may be water on one of
Jupiter's moons, raising the possibility it could support a
primitive life form, scientists said Tuesday.
Running water may have existed and may still
exist beneath the cracked ice crust of the surface of the
moon Europa, according to scientists who explained the latest
images sent back by Galileo.
"What we're really looking for are niches that would be
favorable for life, and that's a really important distinction
from looking for active life forms today," Galileo imaging
team scientist Ronald Greeley said.
The photographs showed long, crisscrossed cracks in the icy
surface of Europa, which is about the size of Earth's moon.
The images, taken from about 95,000 miles away, are much
clearer than those sent back by Voyager 17 years ago, but
still omit details that leave scientists with many questions.
The announcement about Europa's possible water comes less
than a week after NASA reported that scientists found
evidence of bacteria-sized organisms in a Martian meteorite.
They said that could mean life existed on Mars some 3.6
billion years ago.
"The pictures (of Europa) are exciting and compelling, but
not conclusive," NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin said at
Tuesday's news conference at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory. But he said the discovery of liquid on the moon
would be significant.
"It raises the possibility of a liquid ocean on Europa -- the
only other place in our solar system where we suspect such an
ocean might exist," Goldin said.
Galileo also sent back pictures showing a blue volcanic plume
on another of Jupiter's moons called Io. Comparisons with
photos from Voyager show changes in Io's surface that
indicate significant turbulence.
New photos of Jupiter's large red spot also indicate its
cause. Computer imaging shows it to be a huge hurricane, with
counterclockwise winds of 250 miles an hour.
Galileo, launched in 1989, traveled 400 million miles to
reach Jupiter's atmosphere last December.
Correspondent Jim Hill and Reuters contributed to this report.
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