Hubble Catches A Glimpse Of Europa’s Ice Jets

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In recent observations the Hubble Space Telescope has produced more compelling evidence that water jetting from Europa’s crust finds its origin beneath the moon’s icy surface.

While previous scientific findings have pointed to the possibility that oceans lay beneath the icy shell that encompassed Jupiter, researchers have been cautious in saying the eruptions originate from beneath the planets ice crust.

However, on the back of Hubble’s latest revelation researchers are now inching closer to concluding that Europa does, in fact, produce water vapor plumes.

“By far the simplest explanation for this water vapor is that it erupted from plumes on the surface of Europa,” said researcher Lorenz Roth of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “If those plumes are connected with the subsurface water ocean we are confident exists under Europa’s crust, then this means that future investigations can directly investigate the chemical makeup of Europa’s potentially habitable environment without drilling through layers of ice. And that is tremendously exciting.”

While no missions to Europa are planned in the near future this discovery could generate interest in remote exploration of the icy rock. Moreover, the finding further validates the usefulness of the Hubble Space Telescope and the ivestments made to upgrade the decades old craft.

“If confirmed, this new observation once again shows the power of the Hubble Space Telescope to explore and opens a new chapter in our search for potentially habitable environments in our solar system,” said John Grunsfeld, an astronaut who participated Hubble servicing missions and now serves as NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington. “The effort and risk we took to upgrade and repair Hubble becomes all the more worthwhile when we learn about exciting discoveries like this one from Europa.”

Images Courtesy of NASA