NASA astronomers announced Monday that they have detected what appears to be water steam geysers on the frozen surface of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, under which lies an ocean.
These observations, made using ultraviolet emissions on the Hubble Space Telescope, increase the possibility of collecting samples of this water and ice without having to put a robot on the surface of Europa.
“The ocean of Europa is considered one of the most exciting places in the solar system where life could potentially exist,” said Geoff Yoder, Acting Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
“These geysers, if their existence is confirmed, could offer another way to obtain samples of the water from under the ice,” he added.
These jets reached 125 miles in altitude, causing the fall of materials on the surface of the moon.
During ten observations of Europa’s passing in front of Jupiter on a fifteen-month period, the scientists were able to see three times what appears to be geysers, said the scientists, including William Sparks, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
Without being able to say with certainty that it is water vapor jets, the astronomers believe that it is a “substantial” probability.
In 2012 another scientific team led by Lorenz Roth, of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, had already detected steam gushing from the surface of Europa in the south polar region, reaching 100 miles in space .
Both teams used the same instrument on Hubble for the observations, a spectrograph, but totally different methods, and arrived at the same conclusion.
If these observations are confirmed, Europa would be the second known moon in the solar system to have such phenomena.
In 2005, the Cassini spacecraft of NASA detected water steam jets coming out of the surface of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn.
Europe contains a vast ocean containing two times more water than all the Earth’s oceans combined, but it is covered by an extremely cold and very hard ice crust, whose thickness is unknown at this stage.
This last observation will be published in the next issue of the journal Astrophysical Journal.