Article by Mihai Andrei November 19, 2019 (zmescience.com)
• NASA has confirmed that Jupiter’s moon Europa contains liquid water, making it one of the most promising places we know for extraterrestrial life. Astronomers have previously observed plumes of water emerging from Europa reaching hundreds of kilometers high.
• More recently, researchers at the W. M. Keck Observatory, atop the dormant Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii, found a clear signature of water molecules on the moon. Its earthbound spectrograph was able to detect water on Europa by meticulously removing the signatures of water molecules and other “contaminants” within the earth’s atmosphere.
• While “Essential chemical elements…are found all over the solar system,” says NASA scientist Lucas Paganini, liquid water is somewhat hard to find beyond Earth.” Forty years ago, the Voyager snapped a photo of a cracked and shifting geology on Europa, indicating tectonic drifts or even a sub-surface ocean with slabs of ice moving on top of it.
• Avi Mandell, a Goddard planetary scientist on Paganini’s team, said, “[E]ventually, we’ll have to get closer to Europa to see what’s really going on.” In 2025 he and his fellow astronomers will get their wish. NASA’s Clipper mission will launch toward Jupiter to analyze Europa’s habitability, chemistry, and geology. The mission will also help NASA select a landing site for its future Europa lander. The European Space Agency plans to launch its ‘Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (or “JUICE”) in 2022 to analyze Jupiter’s Galilean moons: Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. Might these explorers detect life in a moon’s slushy ocean?
NASA has confirmed that Jupiter’s moon Europa contains liquid water, making it one of the most promising places we know for extraterrestrial life.
At first glance, not much is happening on Europa. A small, frozen world orbiting Jupiter doesn’t seem like the most interesting place out there. But 40 years ago, the Voyager snapped an intriguing photo of the satellite: its frozen surface wasn’t stale and monotonous, it was cracked and sliced by different features, suggesting active and recent phenomena. Subsequent missions showed even more exciting things.
Despite being undoubtedly bombarded by meteorites, Europa’s surface is largely devoid of craters. This means that something must have erased or eroded them, suggesting some active geology. Not only is Europa active — it has some form of tectonics, and more impressively, it seems to have liquid water. The liquid water isn’t on the surface but rather beneath the frozen surface. The pattern of the cracks observed on Europa’s surface suggest that the frozen surface of the planet is not locked to the rest of the interior, which is exactly what you’d expect to happen if a layer of liquid were to exist beneath the surface.
To make things even more tantalizing, astronomers have observed something which seems to be plumes of water emerging from Europa. Some of the plumes are hundreds of kilometers high, adding even more evidence to the case for water on Europa.
Now, that case is essentially proven. Researchers looking from the W. M. Keck Observatory, atop the dormant Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii, found a clear signature of water molecules.
“Essential chemical elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur) and sources of energy, two of three requirements for life, are found all over the solar system. But the third — liquid water — is somewhat hard to find beyond Earth,” said Lucas Paganini, a NASA planetary scientist who led the water detection investigation. “While scientists have not yet detected liquid water directly, we’ve found the next best thing: water in vapor form.”
1:46 minute video on ‘Water Plumes on Europa” (NASA Goddard youTube)
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