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I read a news article about a probe headed out to Jupiter. At the end of the article, it mentions a fear of "contaminating" the moons if it does not end it's life on Jupiter itself:

Juno's electronic heart is protected in a vault of titanium, but it too will fall to the harsh Jovian radiation environment after about a year. Juno's last move will be to dive into the planet's atmosphere to avoid any chance of contaminating Jupiter's potentially life-bearing moons.

Is it really possible that life - at least as we have so far observed it - to exist in this solar system so far away from the sun? Could a life-supporting atmosphere provide ample protection from solar radiation as well as temperature?

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    There are extremophiles on earth. Perhaps you could better qualify what you mean by life as we know it? Do you mean human-like, animal like, or is bacteria good enough? – Chad Jul 29 '11 at 19:21
  • I think one of the points is that the more we learn about life, the more we realize that life has the potential to exist in more ways than we currently comprehend. – ESultanik Jul 29 '11 at 20:07
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    @ESultanik: that paper has received lots of criticism, some of which (in my opinion) was a bit harsh and uncalled for, but it's true that the story there is still a bit unclear. – nico Jul 29 '11 at 23:30
  • There are two separate claims here, and I'm a bit confused which you want answered: Are the conditions on the moon such that some form of life might be on them now? Could the moons support any form of life found on Earth that might get accidentally carried by a satellite? – Oddthinking Jul 30 '11 at 4:31
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It is possible, and the prime candidate where it might have happened is Europa. See http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/03/0323_050323_jupitereuropa.html for more.

Rothschild studies the origins of life on Earth and other planets. She's intrigued by Europa because it appears to contain likely key ingredients for life—water, an energy source, organic compounds, and billions of years of development.

Taken together, these ingredients are sufficient to support life, scientists say. To answer the question of whether life actually exists on Europa, however, requires further exploration with orbiters and landers like those currently exploring Mars.

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