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Hubble Discovers Water Vapour Venting From Jupiter’s Moon Europa

December 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Water vapour plumes on Jupiter's moon Europa (artist's impression). Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. Roth (Southwest Research Institute, USA/University of Cologne, Germany) and M. Kornmesser

Water vapour plumes on Jupiter’s moon Europa (artist’s impression). Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. Roth (Southwest Research Institute, USA/University of Cologne, Germany) and M. Kornmesser

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has discovered water vapour erupting from the frigid surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa, in one or more localised plumes near its south pole.

Europa is already thought to harbour a liquid ocean beneath its icy crust, making the moon one of the main targets in the search for habitable worlds away from Earth. This new finding is the first observational evidence of water vapour being ejected off the moon’s surface.

“The discovery that water vapour is ejected near the south pole strengthens Europa’s position as the top candidate for potential habitability,” said lead author Lorenz Roth of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. “However, we do not know yet if these plumes are connected to subsurface liquid water or not.” The Hubble findings will be published in the 12 December online issue of Science Express, and are being reported today at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California, USA.

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