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Last updated at 17:44 GMT, Thursday, 17 November 2011

New evidence of water on Jupiter's moon

Summary

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.

Reporter
Daniel Griffiths

Jupiter's moon Europa photographed from NASA's Galileo spacecraft

Scientists have found water on Europa, Jupiter's moon.

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Report

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

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Vocabulary

icy surfaces

ground covered in ice

evidence

information that could confirm a theory

thick crust

deep external cover

analysed

studied

findings

conclusions

terrains

areas

plumes (of water)

vertical flows (of water)

fracturing

breaking

outer layers

material covering all the other material around the moon

icy wastes

vast empty areas of land covered in ice

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