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  • Water is vital to life on Earth and probably to life elsewhere.

  • This has led astronomers to become interested in oceans.

  • And to the discovery that oceans can be very different to those beneath the open skies of Earth.

  • On three of the moons of Jupiter,

  • and two of the moons of Saturn,

  • there was good evidence of liquid oceans.

  • The first of these oceans to be discovered was within Jupiter's moon Europa.

  • Though Europa is small, it may boast more liquid water than the Earth.

  • The ocean could be over 100 kilometers deep.

  • Heat generated by Jupiter's powerful tides keeps it warm underneath the icy shell.

  • Europe's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission, or JUICE, will launch in 2022 to study Jupiter and three of its largest moons.

  • Perhaps one of the most promising oceans for study is on Enceladus, a tiny moon of Saturn.

  • This is because the ocean does not stay under the ice cap.

  • Geysers at the moon's south pole shoot ocean water hundreds of kilometers out into space.

  • Studies by NASA's Cassini probe showed that

  • the water in these jets contain organic molecules,

  • the building blocks of life.

  • There is also evidence of hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean.

  • This is significant because it is thought that life first arose at hydrothermal vents on Earth.

  • A spacecraft flying through the jets of Enceladus

  • could sample the water for traces of complex

  • biological molecules such as DNA or protein.

  • There is no guarantee of life in the waters of Enceladus.

  • Or in any of the solar system's other hidden oceans.

  • But the possibility that something might be there will drive ambitious explorations for decades to come.

  • Coming up, how to discover new planets.

Water is vital to life on Earth and probably to life elsewhere.

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The hunt for oceans in space | The Economist

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    Jerry Liu posted on 2019/04/13
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