The Hubble Space Telescope has confirmed that Jupiter’s icy moon Europa – the subject of intense speculation it could harbor extraterrestrial life – has persistent water vapor.
Strangely enough, however, it is only in one hemisphere.
According to a statement from the European Space Agency, the water vapor is in the posterior hemisphere, the part of the moon that in its orbit is always opposite to its direction of motion.
At this point, researchers don’t yet understand why the water vapor is only in the posterior hemisphere and not in the leading hemisphere.
The Hubble Space Telescope has confirmed that Europa (pictured) has persistent water vapor in one hemisphere
The vapor is located in the posterior hemisphere, the part that is always opposite to the direction of movement in its orbit. Researchers still don’t understand why water vapor is only one hemisphere
The study used Hubble archive images and spectra and a technique that determined that there is water vapor in the atmosphere of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede to arrive at their findings.
The presence of water vapor on Europa, Jupiter’s fourth largest moon, was identified as early as 2013 when Hubble photographed plumes erupting more than 60 miles high through its icy shell.
However, this new finding notes that there are water vapors over a significantly larger area of the moon than previously thought, with the data dating from 1999 to 2015.
“The observation of water vapor on Ganymede, and on the back of Europe, advances our understanding of the atmospheres of icy moons,” the study’s sole author, Lorenz Roth of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Space and Plasma Physics, said in a statement.
‘However, the detection of stable water abundance on Europa is somewhat more surprising than on Ganymede, because the surface temperatures of Europa are lower than those of Ganymede.’
In May, a separate study found that the ice shell could actually have water pockets that could support life.
Two months later, scientists suggested that robots might have to dig through a foot of ice to find signs of life in the ocean.
Europa is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon and orbits Jupiter every 3.5 days.
It is thought to have an iron core, a rocky mantle, and the aforementioned ocean made of salt water, like Earth.
The presence of water vapor on Europa was established in 2013. Europe has made a liquid ocean of water that could be hospitable to life
The discovery uses ultraviolet observations of Europe from 1999, 2012, 2014 and 2015 using Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph.
The Hubble is a joint project of NASA, the ESA and the Canadian Space Agency, CSA.
The other side of the moon “glows in the dark” by being hit with relentless radiation.
Europa reflects more sunlight than Ganymede and thus has a surface temperature that is 60°F cooler than on Ganymede.
The day higher on Europa is -260°F, but even with this temperature, the findings suggest that water ice is changing from solid to vapor, much like it did on Ganymede.
Scientists know that Europa has a liquid ocean made of water that could be hospitable to humans or perhaps aliens.
In 2020, a British space scientist said it’s “almost a race sure” that Europe is home to alien life, going so far as to suggest they are “octopus”-like creatures.
Separately, scientists discovered that year that Europa’s ocean “contains all the ingredients for life.”
By discovering that the water vapor is only on part of the moon, it could help future space missions study the Jupiter satellite.
The study is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
The findings are of interest to both NASA and ESA, which will send missions to this region of the solar system, the Europa Clipper mission in 2024 and Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), respectively.
The Europa Clipper mission could answer whether the icy celestial body is habitable for humans and capable of supporting life.
In addition, it will look for potential areas on the moon, the sixth largest in the solar system, for a lander to land.
The spacecraft will arrive at the moon in 2030 and use radar to look below the surface and an analyzer to study dust that enters the world’s plumes.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT EUROPE AND WHY IS IT SO SPECIAL?
Jupiter Europa’s icy moon is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon.
Europa orbits Jupiter every 3.5 days and – like Earth’s moon – is temporarily locked so that the same side of Europa always faces Jupiter.
It is thought to have an iron core, a rocky mantle, and a surface ocean of salt water, like Earth.
However, unlike on Earth, this ocean is deep enough to cover the entire surface of Europa, and because it is far from the sun, the ocean surface is frozen worldwide.
Many experts believe that the hidden ocean around Europa, heated by powerful tidal forces caused by Jupiter’s gravity, may have conditions favorable for life.
NASA scientists are about to examine Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa for signs of alien life.
Europe is our best chance of finding biological life in the solar system, researchers say.
The space agency is preparing two probes, including one that will land on the surface, to explore the distant moon in detail over the next decade, the agency says.