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Could Jupiter Moon Harbor Fish-Size Life?


Victoria Jaggard
National Geographic News
November 16, 2009

In the oceans of a moon hundreds of millions of miles from the sun, something fishy may be alive--right now.

Below its icy crust Jupiter's moon Europa is believed to host a global ocean up to a hundred miles (160 kilometers) deep, with no land to speak of at the surface. (See "Jupiter Moon Has Violent, Hidden Oceans, Study Suggests.")

And the extraterrestrial ocean is currently being fed more than a hundred times more oxygen than previous models had suggested, according to provocative new research.

That amount of oxygen would be enough to support more than just microscopic life-forms: At least three million tons of fishlike creatures could theoretically live and breathe on Europa, said study author Richard Greenberg of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

"There's nothing saying there is life there now," said Greenberg, who presented his work last month at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences. "But we do know there are the physical conditions to support it."

In fact, based on what we know about the Jovian moon, parts of Europa's seafloor should greatly resemble the environments around Earth's deep-ocean hydrothermal vents, said deep-sea molecular ecologist Timothy Shank.

"I'd be shocked if no life existed on Europa," said Shank, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who was not involved in the new study.

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