Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hubble discovers water vapour venting from Jupiter’s moon Europa

16.12.2013
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has discovered water vapour erupting from the frigid surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa, in one or more localised plumes near its south pole.

Europa is already thought to harbour a liquid ocean beneath its icy crust, making the moon one of the main targets in the search for habitable worlds away from Earth. This new finding is the first observational evidence of water vapour being ejected off the moon's surface.


Water vapour plumes on Jupiter's moon Europa (artist's impression)

"The discovery that water vapour is ejected near the south pole strengthens Europa's position as the top candidate for potential habitability," said lead author Lorenz Roth of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. "However, we do not know yet if these plumes are connected to subsurface liquid water or not." The Hubble findings will be published in the 12 December online issue of Science Express, and are being reported today at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California, USA.

The Hubble discovery makes Europa only the second moon in the Solar System known to have water vapour plumes. In 2005, plumes of water vapour and dust were detected by NASA's Cassini orbiter spewing off the surface of the Saturnian moon Enceladus.

The Europa plumes were discovered by Hubble observations in December 2012. The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) detected faint ultraviolet light from an aurora at the moon's south pole. This aurora is driven by Jupiter's intense magnetic field, which causes particles to reach such high speeds that they can split the water molecules in the plume when they hit them, resulting in oxygen and hydrogen ions which leave their telltale imprint in the colours of the aurora.

So far, only water vapour has been detected — unlike the plumes on Enceladus, which also contain ice and dust particles.

"We pushed Hubble to its limits to see this very faint emission," said co-lead author and principal investigator of the Hubble observing campaign Joachim Saur of the University of Cologne, Germany. "Only after a particular camera on the Hubble Space Telescope had been repaired on the last servicing mission by the Space Shuttle did we gain the sensitivity to really search for these plumes."

Roth suggests long cracks on Europa's surface, known as linea, might be venting water vapour into space. Similar fissures have been photographed near Enceladus's south pole by the Cassini spacecraft. It is unknown how deep inside Europa's crust the source of the water may be. Roth asks, "Do the vents extend down to a subsurface ocean or are the ejecta simply from warmed ice caused by friction stresses near the surface?"

Also like Enceladus, the Hubble team found that the intensity of the plumes varies with Europa's orbital position. Active geysers have only been seen when the moon is furthest from Jupiter. But the researchers could not detect any sign of venting when Europa is closer to Jupiter.

One explanation is that the long fractures in the ice crust experience more stress as gravitational tidal forces push and pull on the moon and so open vents at larger distances from Jupiter. The vents are narrowed or closed when at closest approach to the gas giant planet [1]. Team member Kurt Retherford, also of the Southwest Research Institute, points out that "the plume variability supports a key prediction that we should see this kind of tidal effect if there is a subsurface ocean on Europa".

Future space probe missions to Europa could confirm that the exact locations and sizes of vents and determine whether they connect to liquid subsurface reservoirs. It is important news for missions such as ESA's JUpiter ICy moons Explorer, a mission planned for launch in 2022, and which aims to explore both Jupiter and three of its largest moons: Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa.

Notes

[1] When Europa orbits around Jupiter, the moon experiences varying tidal forces at different points in its orbit. The tidal stresses compress the vents at the south pole region when Europa is closest to Jupiter, and stretch them when Europa is furthest away, making it possible for the vents to open up. A subsurface ocean would allow the stresses on Europa's surface to be much stronger as the interior would be malleable and flexible.

Notes for editors

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of L. Roth (Southwest Research Institute, USA; University of Cologne, Germany), J. Saur (University of Cologne, Germany), K. D. Retherford (Southwest Research Institute, USA), D. F. Strobel (The Johns Hopkins University, USA), P. D. Feldman (The Johns Hopkins University, USA), M. A. McGrath (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, USA), F. Nimmo (University of California, USA).

More information

Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. Roth (Southwest Research Institute, USA/University of Cologne, Germany) and M. Kornmesser.

Contacts

Lorenz Roth
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas, USA
University of Cologne, Germany
Tel: +1-210-522-2225
Email: lorenz.roth@swri.org
Joachim Saur
University of Cologne
Germany
Tel: +49-221-470-2310
Email: jsaur@uni-koeln.de
Nicky Guttridge
ESA/Hubble Public Information Officer
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49-89-3200-6855
Cell: +44 7512 318322
Email: nguttrid@partner.eso.org
Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute
Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Tel: +1-410-338-4514
Email: villard@stsci.edu

| ESA/Hubble Media Newsletter
Further information:
http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1322/

Further reports about: Enceladus Hubble Hubble Space Telescope Jupiter NASA Space water molecule water vapour

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New method gives microscope a boost in resolution
10.12.2018 | Rudolf-Virchow-Zentrum für Experimentelle Biomedizin der Universität Würzburg

nachricht A new 'spin' on kagome lattices
10.12.2018 | Boston College

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers develop method to transfer entire 2D circuits to any smooth surface

What if a sensor sensing a thing could be part of the thing itself? Rice University engineers believe they have a two-dimensional solution to do just that.

Rice engineers led by materials scientists Pulickel Ajayan and Jun Lou have developed a method to make atom-flat sensors that seamlessly integrate with devices...

Im Focus: Three components on one chip

Scientists at the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) succeed in important further development on the way to quantum Computers.

Quantum computers one day should be able to solve certain computing problems much faster than a classical computer. One of the most promising approaches is...

Im Focus: Substitute for rare earth metal oxides

New Project SNAPSTER: Novel luminescent materials by encapsulating phosphorescent metal clusters with organic liquid crystals

Nowadays energy conversion in lighting and optoelectronic devices requires the use of rare earth oxides.

Im Focus: A bit of a stretch... material that thickens as it's pulled

Scientists have discovered the first synthetic material that becomes thicker - at the molecular level - as it is stretched.

Researchers led by Dr Devesh Mistry from the University of Leeds discovered a new non-porous material that has unique and inherent "auxetic" stretching...

Im Focus: The force of the vacuum

Scientists from the Theory Department of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) in Hamburg have shown through theoretical calculations and computer simulations that the force between electrons and lattice distortions in an atomically thin two-dimensional superconductor can be controlled with virtual photons. This could aid the development of new superconductors for energy-saving devices and many other technical applications.

The vacuum is not empty. It may sound like magic to laypeople but it has occupied physicists since the birth of quantum mechanics.

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

Expert Panel on the Future of HPC in Engineering

03.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

New method gives microscope a boost in resolution

10.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Carnegie Mellon researchers probe hydrogen bonds using new technique

10.12.2018 | Life Sciences

ETRI exchanged quantum information on daylight in a free-space quantum key distribution

10.12.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>