Water vapor has been detected by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope on Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa, potentially revealing new information about frozen satellites in our solar system and beyond.
Hubble has previously discovered water vapor on Europa, in the form of intermittent plumes that extend 120 miles (200 kilometers) into space from the moon’s icy shell, which covers a massive, submerged ocean of liquid water. This recent discovery, on the other hand, is entirely different.
Lorenz Roth, a researcher in Sweden, working at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, studied archival ultraviolet interpretations of Europa. It said that Hubble Space Telescope was made with its Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph instrument in 1999, 2012, 2014, and 2015.
Disclosing the existence of Water Vapor
Significant levels of water vapor were discovered on Europa’s trailing hemisphere, which faces away from the moon’s orbital path around Jupiter, according to this investigation. Unlike ephemeral plumes, this water vapor lasted for a long time, according to Roth, who published his findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters last month.
Roth and colleagues recently utilized a similar technique to detect water vapor on Ganymede, Jupiter’s biggest moon. “Observing water vapor on Ganymede and Europa’s following side increases our understanding of frozen moon atmospheres,” Roth said in a release. “However, because Europa’s surface temperatures are lower than Ganymede’s, the identification of a stable water abundance on Europa is a little more startling than on Ganymede.”
Europa reflects sunlight more effectively than Ganymede, resulting in a temperature difference of nearly 60 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius) between the two moons, according to NASA experts. Although temperatures on Europa reach – 260 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 160 degrees Celsius), a significant amount of ice appears to be sublimating, changing into vapor and drifting into space. The fact that this water vapor is restricted to Europa’s trailing hemisphere adds to the mystery. NASA officials said they don’t know why this is the case.
Probabilities in this area
We may soon learn more about these unusual findings. NASA aims to launch the Europa Clipper mission in October 2024, and it will arrive in Jupiter’s system in April 2030. The spacecraft will fly close to Europa dozens of times, investigating its ocean and ice shell and even zipping through a plume if one flares up at the proper time.
Clipper will also scout potential landing sites for a life-hunting lander mission that Congress has mandated NASA construct (though this mission is not yet officially on NASA’s books).