NASA NEWS: New Europa Findings

NASA Finds more evidence of water plumes on Europa

pia19048_realistic_color_europa_mosaicCredit: NASA

jon round 1By Jonathan Stroud

NASA held a press conference Sept. 26, 2016 releasing the latest findings from the Hubble Space Telescope’s study of Europa, one of Jupiter’s 67 moons. The Hubble discovered what appears to be multiple water vent plumes on Europa’s surface. These findings add to previous speculation of the possible water vents and serve as additional evidence of a liquid ocean below the icy surface on Jupiter’s moon. While the findings do not confirm the water plumes, they add high statistical evidence for their existence. During the Hubble observations, the plumes were found 3 out of 10 times using Jupiter as a background, stretching Hubble’s technological capabilities using ultraviolet light.

These findings also suggest that organic compounds for life might be a possibility on Europa’s surface. According to William Sparks, astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, “If there are plumes emerging from the surface of Europa, it’s significant because it means we can look for organic molecules or even signs of life without drilling into miles of ice.”

europa02-photoa-plumes1000x1000-160919.jpgCredits: NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center

The image above of Europa is superimposed on top of the Hubble data that was gathered as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. As seen on the lower portion of Europa in the picture, the suspected plumes of water vapor are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) then fall back down onto the moon’s surface.  

Why is this cool?

This is cool because with these types of findings NASA is able to raise public awareness for additional funding for further research of Europa. Since the possible plumes are thought to contain essential components for organic life, future missions may find the elements for life on Europa’s surface.

Why should I care?

You should care because Europa is a possible candidate for life within our solar system, and these findings move NASA one step closer to answering if we are truly alone in the Universe.

The use of the Hubble is highly competitive between various teams, and scientists hope to have opportunities to view Europa for more signs of plumes in the future. The team of astronomers are hopeful that more detailed data will be compiled once the James Webb Telescope is launched in 2018, through the use of its infrared wavelengths.

Keep up with the latest Europa and space-related news at Journalists For Space.

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