As it turns out, based on new research, one of Jupiter’s 79 moons, Europa, is also fit for life.
Nature Astronomy published a study in its November 18 issue revealing that an international team of astronomers detected water vapors in Europa’s atmosphere. Water vapor was first discovered in 2013, by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, but nobody was able to measure it until now.
The authors of the study wrote: “Here we present direct searches for water vapor on Europa spanning dates from February 2016 to May 2017 with the Keck Observatory. We suggest that the outgassing of water vapor on Europa occurs at lower levels than previously estimated, with only rare localized events of stronger activity.”
The team of scientists used one of the largest telescopes in the world, the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, to study Europa for 17 nights straight. The team’s goal was to dig deeper and explore all of the existing theories about liquid on Jupiter’s moon. Water vapor was only detected once during the two and a half weeks of observation.
Lorenz Roth, a co-author of the study, is an astronomer and physicist from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. “This first direct identification of water vapor on Europa is a critical confirmation of our original detections of atomic species, and it highlights the apparent sparsity of large plumes on this icy world,” Roth said.
In April 2016, during one day’s observation, Keck was able to detect and measure 2,095 metric tons of water vapor at the side of Europa facing Earth. Even though a large amount of water was detected, experts still have doubts that the vapor is coming from a subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon. However, there are many signs that indicate the vapor is connected to liquid water under the surface.
Scientists will have to get a closer look at Europa to learn more. Fortunately, the Europa Clipper mission is planned to launch as soon as 2023.