Science Discoveries: The Eruptions Of Water Vapor On Europa

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Jupiter’s moon Europa is a magnificent icy world that awakens the imagination on the Earth. This is the second Galilean satellite and the fourth largest Jupiter’s moon. The Europa is the bright orange color and it is completely covered in a thick layer of ice. Its surface has a very strange appearance, unique in the solar system, and it is among the brightest objects, as a result of the reflected sun rays with a relatively young icy surface. According to the surface is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon and possesses core which is composed of nickel and iron. As one of over sixty satellites orbiting Jupiter, represents the subject of numerous speculations. Behind all speculation lies the possibility that under the eternal ice, that covers the surface of the Europa, there could be conditions for life. This puts the Europa in the first place as the most interesting object in our Solar system and one of the best candidates for extraterrestrial life.

The first clue that supported the possibility of living conditions was the discovery of water vapor on this Jupiter’s moon at the and of the 2013 year. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has noticed water vapor above the south polar region of Europa, providing the first evidence of earlier assumption about the existence of the ocean below the icy crust. This finding was huge, not only because it is supported by the possible presence of liquid water below the surface, but also because it is opened and some technical opportunities to explore Europa – The pair would significantly facilitate sample collection. May not even be necessary to drill ice in order to collect a sample of Europa’s ocean. Now there is a possibility to analyze the chemical content of the plumes. This has encouraged further research by NASA and made Europa be a prime target of astrobiological studying.

Image Courtesy: NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI
Image Courtesy: NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI

At the end of September this year, NASA announced new evidence and images captured by the Hubble telescope. Hubble telescope has directly imaged what may be plumes of water vapor on Jupiter’s icy moon. The existence of water vapor plumes providing an early glimpse into the ocean conditions, which is already marked as the most promising place for the potential host life at the very least on the microbial level. This long-held hypothesis now seems to be more relevant than ever and we are one step closer to the solving Europa’s nature puzzle.

So, how NASA scientists and astrophysicists come up with evidence at the first place? Astronomers used the most famous telescope to observed the aurora from the interaction of Jupiter’s magnetic field and Europa and detected plumes of water vapor erupting off Europa. At least, that was the only possible natural explanation for the spotted emissions in wavelengths. That discovery happened in 2012 and NASA announced it in 2013. On the other side, the second team of astrologist in 2014, 2015 and 2016 used completely different methods of examination and they get the same results. Specifically, they used the Hubble for the ultraviolet images and they managed to get direct images of rising plumes. Those plumes were very similar in the height and location with the ones that are got in the first team observation. Out of ten observed occurrences, the three of them has shown something that can be defined as eruptions. Further measurements showed that the eruptions went about 200 kilometers above the Europa surface. As the Europa’s ocean lies beneath the unknown thickness of the ice, this gives a huge opportunity to the scientists to look under the surface on a much easier way.

Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Reference: NASA