Hubble finds additional evidence of water vapor plumes on Europa

//Hubble finds additional evidence of water vapor plumes on Europa

Hubble finds additional evidence of water vapor plumes on Europa

By | 2016-09-26T18:24:42+00:00 September 26th, 2016|Sci/Tech|0 Comments

In the seminal science fiction series Space Odyssey, novelist Arthur C. Clarke called attention to the Jovian moon Europa’s special place in the Solar System. At the end of the series’ second novel, 2010: Odyssey Two, a spaceship sent to the Jupiter system receives a message from aliens: “All these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there.” In data released publicly Monday NASA didn’t get quite such a declarative message from the intriguing moon, but the new information is nonetheless thrilling.

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what are likely water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. If the plumes do, in fact, emerge and rain down on the surface, it will be significantly easier for scientists to study the moon’s interior ocean. “Europa is a world of great interest,” Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said during a news conference Monday.

Monday’s news is significant because it comes as NASA is taking formative steps toward launching a pair missions to Europa in the 2020s—an orbiter to scout the moon, and a lander that will follow a couple of years later. The same engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California who masterminded Curiosity’s landing on Mars have turned their attention toward how best to land a probe on Europa’s icy surface. And it is no easy feat. The moon creaks as Jupiter’s gravitation bulk rends its frozen surface in deep crevasses, pushing and pulling the ice upward and downward by tens of meters every few days. And with only a very tenuous atmosphere, it is cold: -210 degrees Celsius. The radiation from nearby Jupiter would kill a human in a matter of hours or days.