18 November 2011
Scientists studying the solar system say they have found the best evidence of water out there.
It is just beneath the ground on Jupiter's moon, Europa, and it could represent a potential habitat for living organisms.
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What secrets lie beneath the icy surfaces of Europa? Scientists say they may have found the best evidence yet for water on Jupiter's frozen moon.
They suspect that a vast ocean lies beneath the thick crust of ice. Any liquid water could represent a potential habitat for life. The scientists analysed images collected by the Galileo spacecraft launched in 1989. They've also based their findings on observations of similar icy terrains on Earth.
Analysis of Europe's surface suggests plumes of warmer water well up beneath its icy shell, melting and fracturing the outer layers.
Much more work is needed to confirm their theories but scientists are excited.
The US and Europe are working on more missions to Europa and Jupiter's other moons. They hope to launch them either late this decade or early in the 2020s. Only then might we really know what lies beneath those icy wastes.
Daniel Griffiths, BBC News
Click to hear the vocabulary
- icy surfaces
ground covered in ice
information that could confirm a theory
- thick crust
deep external cover
- plumes (of water)
vertical flows (of water)
- outer layers
material covering all the other material around the moon
- icy wastes
vast empty areas of land covered in ice