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NASA's Europa 'Surprise' -- Evidence of Water Plumes Discovered

Sep 27, 2016 03:45 AM EDT
Jupiter's Satellites
Astronomers found evidence that shows there are plumes of water vapor from the surface of Europa. This can prove the existence of vast ocean deposit underneath the surface of the Jovian moon.
(Photo : NASA/Newsmakers)

NASA announced another intriguing discovery during a press conference today. It appears that Jupiter's moon Europa is expelling water plumes, indicative of subsurface oceans beneath the moon's surface. This could be an early confirmation of the project global ocean deposits underneath the surface of Europa.

In a detailed image prepared by astronomers using the data gathered by NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, it appears that possible water vapor plumes are erupting on the edges of Europa. This specific Jupiter moon exhibits what looks like water vapor off of its surface.

This new development supports the idea that the moon may have subsurface oceans under its icy surface and it may help astronomers prove this theory without needing the drill a hole through its surface.

 "Europa's ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system," Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington said in a press release. "These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa's subsurface," Yoder added.

Astronomers estimate the plumes to rise as high as 125 miles (200 kilometers) before; if it is true, it is raining materials back on the surface of Europa. Europa is said to have a storage of oceans under its icy surface that amounts to twice as much water compared to Earth. The said ocean is enveloped by a thick icy surface. But the recent discovery of what appears to be water plumes is a surprising development that might allow astronomers to gather samples more easily compared to the initial plans for drilling a hole on the surface to excavate samples.

 William Sparks and his team from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScl) observed Europa as it passed across Jupiter, giving them a clearer view of the "finger-like" projections. Sparks team was originally conducting a study to identify the thickness of Europa's exosphere. But the astronomers noticed that there were plumes of water vapor coming from the surface of Europa.

"The atmosphere of an extrasolar planet blocks some of the starlight that is behind it," Sparks said in a statement. "If 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. And so we were looking for absorption features around the limb of Europa as it transited the smooth face of Jupiter, Sparks added.

After NASA announced that they found a surprising discovery about Europa, a lot of people pointed out to finding life on the Jovian moon. However, NASA made it clear that it wasn't about aliens. Although some still argue, that finding evidence of huge ocean deposits underneath the surface of Europa also means there's also a bigger chance of finding alien life on the same moon.


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