Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

August 6, 1996

Europa: Oceans of Life?
Credit: Voyager Project, JPL, and NASA

Explanation: Is there life beneath Europa's frozen surface? Some believe the oceans found there of carbon-enriched water are the best chance for life, outside the Earth, in our Solar System. Europa, the fourth largest moon of Jupiter, was recently discovered to have a thin oxygen atmosphere by scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope. Although Earth's atmospheric abundance of oxygen is indicative of life, astronomers speculate that Europa's oxygen arises purely from physical processes. But what an interesting coincidence! The above picture was taken by a Voyager spacecraft in 1979, but the spacecraft Galileo is currently circling Jupiter and has been photographing Europa. The first of these pictures will be released two days from today. Will they show the unexpected?

Tomorrow's picture: Early Microscopic Life on Mars?

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.