New evidence of water plumes on Jupiter moon
MORE evidence of possible water plumes erupting from the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has been spotted using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the US space agency said.
Europa, one of more than 50 moons circling the gas giant, is considered by NASA as a “top candidate” for life in the solar system because it is believed to possess a massive, salty, subsurface ocean that is twice the size of Earth’s.
The latest finding has given scientists fresh hope that a robotic spacecraft could one day fly past these potential plumes and learn about their contents without having to drill miles deep into the moon’s icy shell.
“Today, we are presenting new Hubble evidence for water vapour plumes being expelled from the icy surface of Europa,” said William Sparks, astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
Using ultraviolet images taken by Hubble, a space telescope that was launched in 1990, the potential plumes are seen around the southern edge of Europa and appear as “dark fingers or patches of possible absorption”, Mr Sparks said.
They were spotted on three separate occasions over the course of 15 months when scientists observed Europa passing in front of Jupiter.
The potential plumes were only observed three out of 10 times when Europa passed by Jupiter, suggesting that the eruptions are intermittent, he said.
“If plumes exist, this is an exciting finding because it potentially gives easier access to the ocean below,” said Mr Sparks.
However, he cautioned that more evidence is needed for scientists to be certain.
“We do not claim to have proven the existence of plumes but rather contributed evidence that such activity may be present,” he said. –