New Evidence of Europa’s Water Plumes!

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Direct Evidence of Europa’s Water Plumes Helps Support Theory of Underwater Oceans

Let’s face it. Unless you consider yourself a professional astronomer or even an enthusiastic amateur, you probably wouldn’t know the name Europa were it not for water. I mean, in my town, there’s a restaurant called Europa, but it’s got nothing to do with Jupiter’s moon or space. No. The reason most space enthusiasts like me—you know, those of us who like to read and learn about space but don’t actually own a telescope—even know about Europa is the underwater oceans. Now new evidence suggests that we can be even more sure of those oceans.

The theory comes down to ice plumes. A little over two decades ago, the Galileo spacecraft flew by Jupiter’s icy moon. The data from the mission suggested that the spacecraft flew through a geyser-like plume of ice and water spewing from the planet’s icy surface on its way past. Since then, scientists have found even more indirect evidence that supports the idea of Europa’s water plumes. However, they’ve been unable to find any direct evidence. Until now. 

A new study published in Nature yesterday claims to have found direct evidence of water spewing from Europa’s ice. In April of 2016, researchers discovered a distinct infrared signature that could only come from water vapor. Even more shocking was the volume they detected—around enough to fill an Olympic pool! That, combined with other data helps astronomers rule out the possibility of other explanations for Europa’s water plumes. 

Here’s The Evidence Contributed by Hubble

What’s So Special About Water on Europa?

Those other explanations to which I was referring are explanations that leave out the possibility of a sub-surface ocean or a liquid water reservoir. One such theory is that radiation from Jupiter itself is pulling the vapor out of the ice. However, the volumes described in this new paper make that scenario highly unlikely. And that’s the exciting part. 

The plumes may not be liquid water—the Holy Grail in the search for extraterrestrial life—but they’re the next best thing: water vapor. Further, all indications seem to point to heat beneath the moon’s icy surface causing the plumes to erupt. 

“While scientists have not yet detected liquid water directly, we’ve found the next best thing: water in vapor form,” study lead author Lucas Paganini, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and American University in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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