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For Immediate Release: October 10, 1997

University of Hawai'i planetary scientist reports finding "ingredients for life" on Jupiter's moons. Planetary scientist Thomas B. McCord of the Hawai'i Institute for Geophysics and Planetology says findings from instruments onboard the Galileo spacecraft suggest that Jupiter's moon Europa may have all three of the ingredients scientists believe are required for life: an energy source and liquid water (which Europa was already thought to have) and, McCord's team now believes, organic molecules. "This doesn't mean there is life on Europa," says McCord, who is the lead author of a study published today in the journal Science, "but Europa may have all three of the ingredients."

The Galileo mapping spectrometer instrument detected combinations of oxygen, carbon, sulfur, hydrogen and nitrogen on the surfaces of Callisto and Ganymede, two of Jupiter's moons. This makes it highly likely, McCord says, that similar compounds existed on Europa, but it is the only one of four Jupiter moons that is also believed to have liquid water. The satellite-based instrument measures the wavelength of solar radiation reflected off the moons' surfaces. The wavelength of the reflected light is different for each kind of molecule, so scientists can make deductions about what kinds of chemicals are present on the moon surfaces. One of the wavelength patterns - or "signatures" - detected by Galileo indicates that tholins may be present on the Jupiter moons. McCord describes tholins as a "pre-biotic material" - organic molecules that need to be present for life to form.

The possibility that life has existed or will exist on other planets excites the public imagination, and national and international news organizations have been calling McCord since the Science article was released this morning. He stresses that these latest findings do not prove the existence of life on Jupiter's moons, but they do suggest that life there might be more likely than had been previously supposed.