Europa is one of at least 67 known moons of Jupiter. Scientists have long speculated that its cracked crust hid a vast ocean.
Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes.
Plumes of water vapor appear to be escaping from the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. Evidence of the plumes is visible in recent observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope. The new report confirms similar observations that were made in 2013.
“Hubble’s unique capabilities enabled it to capture these plumes, once again demonstrating Hubble’s ability to make observations it was never designed to make,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This observation opens up a world of possibilities, and we look forward to future missions — such as the James Webb Space Telescope — to follow-up on this exciting discovery.”
The plumes provide additional evidence that beneath Europa’s icy surface lies a vast underground ocean of liquid water. In addition, they suggest that it might be easier than some had thought to search for signs of life on the moon, which has long been considered one of the likeliest places to find extraterrestrial life in the solar system. The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa’s surface. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, but it is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness. The plumes provide a tantalizing opportunity to gather samples originating from under the surface without having to land or drill through the ice.
If confirmed, Europa would be the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes.