In a surprise development, the water vapor plumes were spotted erupting from the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. This revelation suggests that life could exist in our solar system.
Expected to be published in the forthcoming edition of Astrophysical Journal, the latest observation signals the possibility that missions delivered to Europa may be able to scan through ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.
Commenting on the development, Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington DC disclosed that Europa’s ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system. He said that these plumes if they indeed exist in the real world may provide a way to sample Europa’s subsurface.
Europa is the largest moon of Jupiter among 67
Out of 67 moons owned by Jupiter, Europa is one of the largest. Towards the end of 2013, the Hubble Telescope detected water vapor plumes erupting from Europa. It was regarded as an exciting discovery by scientists all over the world. The plumes estimated to rise approximately 200 km. After that, it will rain material back into the Europa’s surface.
In the meantime, a team lead by William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore noticed these finger-like projections while viewing Europa’s limb as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. The main purpose of the team was to find out whether Europa has a thin, extended atmosphere or exosphere.
The atmosphere of an extra solar planet blocks some of the starlight that is behind it
Sparks further said that it there is a thin atmosphere around Europa, it has the potential to block some of the light of Jupiter, and we could see it as a silhouette. Hence, they are looking for absorption features around the limb of Europa as it transited the smooth face of Jupiter.
Europa passing in front of Jupiter 3 out of 15 times
In 10 separate frequencies spanning 15 months, the team observed Europa passing in front of Jupiter. They also noticed the plumes erupting from it on three occasions. If the news turns out to be true, Europa would be the second moon in the solar system dubbed to have water vapor plumes.
To further substantiate the recent revelations, researchers will make use of the infrared vision of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2018. This is to confirm venting or pluming activity on Europa.
Meanwhile, NASA is also gearing up to launch a mission to Europa with a payload. This will most likely confirm the presence of plumes and study them from close range during multiple flybys.