"Now that water has been discovered ... this lends more support to the possibility that we have all the conditions which prevailed on Earth 4 1/2 billion years ago to give birth to life," he said. "These conditions may also exist on Titan, and the only thing you need is a little heat to heat up Titan, and maybe (the) birth of life may be seen."
Anybody still think we're the only ones in the Universe...???
Copyright © 1998, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
LONDON (AP) - Orbiting high above Earth, Europe's infrared space observatory has discovered water around stars and planets and in many other surprising places, raising expectations of life elsewhere in the universe, the European Space Agency said Tuesday. The discovery of water vapor in the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has generated the most excitement, because that moon may duplicate the conditions that led to the creation of life on Earth, said Roger Bonnet, the agency's director of science. "Now that water has been discovered ... this lends more support to the possibility that we have all the conditions which prevailed on Earth 4 1/2 billion years ago to give birth to life," he said. "These conditions may also exist on Titan, and the only thing you need is a little heat to heat up Titan, and maybe (the) birth of life may be seen." For 2 1/2 years, the European Space Agency's Infrared Space Observatory, known as ISO, has been exploring the universe at wavelengths that can't be seen with the human eye, giving astronomers a new view of the solar system. They have been able to see water throughout the universe, to see where stars are forming, to shed light on distant galaxies -- and to solve riddles that have puzzled astronomers for centuries, said Reinhard Genzel, chairman of the agency's Astronomy Working Group. "With ISO, for the first time, you could see water," Genzel said at a news conference Tuesday. "In fact, it has been a spectacular vista to see water everywhere." The observatory found water around dying stars, newborn stars, in intersteller space, in other galaxies, and in the atmospheres around Mars and all the outer planets, in particular the Titan moon, Genzel said. "Now you may say, 'So what?' Well, that's actually quite surprising because it's so cold out there. So water should normally freeze out. So the fact that there is water in these atmospheres is really rather remarkable," he said. Genzel said the explanation probably has to do with the fact that something in space is bringing water to the icy outer planets all the time -- "and this something could be comets." "And that is important, because maybe that's the way water came on Earth in the early part of the solar system -- when there were many more comets around, and the Earth was bombarded by these icy objects bringing in water," he said. Athena Coustenis of the Paris Observatory said scientists knew Titan's atmosphere contained carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, so they expected water vapor, too. Now that it's been detected, she said, scientists hope to study the mysterious moon's organic chemistry. The U.S. space agency's planetary explorer Cassini, which was launched in October, promises the best look yet at Saturn and its enticing rings and icy moons. When the plutonium-powered spacecraft arrives at Saturn in 2004 after a 2.2 billion-mile journey, it will release the Huygens probe, built by the European Space Agency, which will land on Titan. "After ISO, the Huygens probe will reveal the actual degree of complexity in a mixture of elaborate organic molecules closely resembling the chemical soup of the young Earth," Coustenis said. Last month, U.S. scientists reported that closer-than-ever pictures of Jupiter's moon Europa showed a 16-mile-wide crater that may have been filled with water, and large frozen plates surrounded by what appeared to be slushy material. The photos, taken in December by the spacecraft Galileo, bolstered the theory that an ocean possibly containing life exists beneath Europa's icy crust, scientists said. With the European infrared telescope, Genzel said scientists also unexpectedly discovered "remarkably high concentrations" of water around young stars in the Orion constellation. "These young stars send out shock waves -- vast streams of gas which run into the surrounding material out of which they were born. And then these streams of gas, these shocks, smash their molecules around and water is formed," Genzel said. "That may be a way to then convert material into water, which then again may play an important role in the life cycle of forming planets, and maybe life," he said. The infrared observatory also has been able to solve the riddle of what causes distant galaxies to be up to 10,000 times more luminous than the Milky Way, Genzel said. Its observations found that their brightness is a result of star formation.