A new discovery on Europa has been made using the Hubble telescope that may facilitate the hunt for life. Hubble has revealed water vapor plumes emitting from the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The reveals an important potential in Europa’s ocean, suggesting we could more easily look for “organic chemicals or even signs of life” that originated within it.
“Today’s results increase our confidence that water might be on the surface of Europa and available for us to study without digging,” Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA headquarters in Washington said during a teleconference in late September.
water vapor plumes
Jupiter’s moon Europa has a diameter of 1,900 miles, making it smaller than Earth’s Moon. The 4.5 billion-year-old object has a frozen surface that scientists have long suspected could be hiding an ocean. Scientists have been using the Hubble Telescope as the “next best thing to study [Jupiter] from afar,” second to space travel.
William Sparks, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and lead author on the study explained how he used “transit imaging” to identify the suspected plumes. It’s the type of imaging used to hunt for exoplanets, using the light of a host star to highlight the planet’s shadow. In the case of Europa, Jupiter’s surface created a smooth background of UV light that highlighted events on the moon’s surface. The water vapor plumes were spotted as silhouettes on Europa’s southern tip, near its equator.
The team’s theory is that water vents exist on the surface. Plumes emerge before raining back down to the surface.
“There are a lot of ways we think water may reach the surface,” she said. “It may not come directly from the ocean, but most of the materials spent some time there.”