Beneath Europa's Ice

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High-resolution photos of Jupiter's moon Europa provide the best evidence yet that we -- or at least our bacteria -- may not be alone. "There is all but certainly a warm ocean filled with organic material beneath the frozen crust of Europa," says TIME science correspondent Jeff Kluger. "A warm ocean, filled with organic material -- exactly the kind of global stew likeliest to generate life."

In deep space, of course, "warm" is a relative term; 32 degrees Fahrenheit on Europa would be positively scalding, and any internal heat the moon may have had at its molten formation has long since dissipated. But as Jupiter's other moons pass by Europa in orbit, their gravitational pulls tug at it and give the moon what Kluger terms "an almost cardiac rhythm" -- just enough to keep its vital juices flowing.

What Galileo's pictures show is the evidence of those warmer waters pushing up through the icy crust, flooding craters and filling surface cracks before freezing again at the moon's surface. The next step for NASA, tentatively planned for 2003, will be to pierce the ice and sample the ocean below.