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Where there's water

Posted on November 18, 2011

The possibility that life might exist, in some form, beyond planet Earth intrigues scientists and science fiction buffs alike.

The latest findings by a group of NASA scientists who are studying Jupiter's moon Europa suggest that there may be large lakes, one of which holds enough water to fill the American Great Lakes.

The research, which was published in the journal Science, inspired widespread international news coverage. Several journalists called on Professor of Geology Geoffrey Collins for perspective on the exciting new findings.

News reports that quoted Prof. Collins included articles published by Sky & Telescope and the Christian Science Monitor.

The team's new explanation "is a really interesting half-way point that is much more realistic," says Geoffrey Collins, a planetary scientist at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. "It's not just 'only liquid down here and only ice up there.' There are perched lakes or slushy areas in the ice shell that may be having a huge effect on the surface geology," he says.

The topic is one in which Collins could be considered an expert. His research explores geological processes on the icy satellites of the outer solar system. He has been involved with various NASA projects such as the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn. A 2007 study by Collins and a research partner suggested that there is a sea of liquid water trapped beneath the ice on Enceladus, raising questions about whether the Saturn moon might feature other conditions favorable to life.

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