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New pictures of Europa suggest oceans, possible life

Europa January 17, 1997
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas (CNN) -- New pictures of Europa, taken by NASA's Galileo space probe, have scientists excited at the prospect of an ocean on Jupiter's moon.

Pictures taken by the probe, which flew within 430 miles (692 km) of Europa on December 19 show a criss-cross of ridges, craters and ice floes stretching hundreds of miles long.

Though they haven't been able to study the pictures in detail, planetary scientists are able to say they detect signs of ice-spewing volcanoes and shifts in the moon's icy crust that are not unlike earthquakes.

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The features provide evidence that water, heat and organic compounds may have combined to create an environment suitable for the start of life, Galileo scientists told a news conference at NASA's Washington headquarters.

"I think Europa is an excellent laboratory for the existence of possible life," said Jim Brown, a planetary scientist at Brown University in Rhode Island. "It's got the ingredients."

Scientists are eagerly awaiting Galileo's closer look at Europa. It will pass within 364 miles (587 km) of the moon on February 20.

Galileo, which was launched in 1989 and arrived at Jupiter in 1995, is making a two-year tour of Jupiter.

Reuters contributed to this report.

 
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