Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time


An international research team
led out of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center have obtained the
first direct detection of water vapor on Jupiter’s moon, Europa.
This came in the form of an infrared signal, captured by an
instrument on the Keck Telescope in Hawaii. Past NASA missions
and earthbound telescopes have found strong evidence suggesting
there is an ocean of water beneath Europa’s icy surface,
and plumes seemingly bursting thru cracks into space. In this
recent study, the scientists observed the entire surface of
Europa over seventeen dates in 2016 and 2017. In one instance,
there was a short-lived spike in infrared light – a spectral
fingerprint that could only be due to water vapor. When water
escapes from Europa’s subsurface reservoirs, the resulting vapor
is exposed to radiation from the sun, and the H2O molecules give
off a distinctive infrared glow. This glowing signal – detected
by Keck – allowed scientists the first direct measurement of
water vapor on Europa. And here, scientists measured over two
thousand tons of water in the plume, nearly the volume of an
Olympic swimming pool. While scientists currently have
limited ability to detect liquid water on Europa, this new
detection of water in vapor form is the next best thing in the
search for one of the most essential ingredients for life.
This discovery will inform future observations of Europa,
including NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission, which will
study the Jovian moon at close range. These efforts should
further unlock the secrets of Europa and its potential for
life beyond Earth.

28 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *