NASA's Big Reveal: Jupiter's Moon Europa May Spout Water Plumes into Space

Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, may spout water vapor miles into space, says NASA, making it possible to better determine whether its vast underwater oceans support extraterrestrial life.

NASA has announced the likely presence of "plumes of water vapor" erupting from the surface of Europa, Jupiter's icy moon. The frigid satellite has long been thought of as candidate for possible microbial life due to its vast subsurface ocean of water. While NASA does plan to send missions to Europa, as Bill Nye the Science Guy explains here, the recent discovery makes likely our ability to investigate Europa's water without bombing or drilling through miles and miles of ice.


“If there are plumes emerging from Europa, it is significant because it means we may be able to explore that ocean for organic chemicals or even signs of life without having to drill through unknown miles of ice,” said William Sparks at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, which manages Hubble.

Europa is believed to have twice as much seawater as Earth beneath miles of frozen water. This makes Europa the most likely candidate for life in our solar system beyond Earth, i.e. alien life! Even before today's announcement from NASA, Bill Nye explained how a future mission would search for life by taking advantage of Europa's water geysers:

But before NASA scientists put forth a theory of what's happening hundreds of millions of miles away, you can be sure they have some empirical data behind them. Today's announcement is the result of two separate investigations into the surface of Europa:

2012

Using the Hubble Space telescope, a team of NASA astronomers observed a "faint aurora" resulting from the interaction of Jupiter and Europa's magnetic fields. These measurements were consistent with the pattern of water molecules dissipating into space, and after considering several possible explanations, scientists landed on water vapor plumes emitting from the surface of Europa as the most plausible. 

2015

A different team of NASA scientists used the same Hubble telescope to image Europa in ultraviolet lights as the moon transited across the face of Jupiter. The telescope is believed to have captured direct images of water vapor plumes rising 125 miles above the surface of Jupiter's frozen moon.

--

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less

10 science photos that made history and changed minds

These photos of scientific heroes and accomplishments inspire awe and curiosity.

Surprising Science
  • Science has given humanity an incalculable boost over the recent centuries, changing our lives in ways both awe-inspiring and humbling.
  • Fortunately, photography, a scientific feat in and of itself, has recorded some of the most important events, people and discoveries in science, allowing us unprecedented insight and expanding our view of the world.
  • Here are some of the most important scientific photos of history:
Keep reading Show less

Love in a time of migrants: on rethinking arranged marriages

Arranged marriages and Western romantic practices have more in common than we might think.

Culture & Religion

In his book In Praise of Love (2009), the French communist philosopher Alain Badiou attacks the notion of 'risk-free love', which he sees written in the commercial language of dating services that promise their customers 'love, without falling in love'.

Keep reading Show less