Jupiter's Moon Europa Could Be Ejecting Plumes of Water

Europa, Jupiter's icy moon

2014-10-21 – This mosaic of Europa's anti-Jovian hemisphere is made from reprocessed images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. (Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SETI Institute)

Europa, Jupiter's moon, is considered one the most promising places in our solar system to search for life beyond Earth because an enormous ocean is believed to exist under its icy crust. On September 26, 2016, NASA published images of what appear to be water vapour plumes being ejected from Jupiter's moon!

During a Europa observation campaign in 2014, the Hubble Space Telescope spotted activity on the moon's surface. Scientists believe that what they are seeing are plumes being ejected from Europa. The first Hubble images of suspected plumes, dating back to 2012, were taken in the same region of the moon. William Sparks, astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, says he is not aware of another natural phenomenon that could cause the type of features captured by Hubble.

NASA cannot confirm that the activity appearing in Hubble's images is actually plumes. However, if the plumes were to be real, that would mean that scientists could access water from the subsurface ocean without having to drill through kilometres of ice. A sample of water and particles from Europa's ocean would be a game-changer in the search for life elsewhere in our solar system!

2016-09-26 – This image shows suspected plumes of water vapour erupting at the 7 o'clock position of Jupiter's moon Europa. The blue background is data taken by Hubble on January 26, 2014. The image of Europa, superimposed on the Hubble data, is assembled from data from NASA's Galileo and Voyager missions. (Credit: NASA / ESA / W. Sparks (STScI) / USGS Astrogeology Science Center)

2016-09-26 – Artist's conception of one of the possible scenarios imagined by scientists for getting water to Europa's surface. (Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech)