NASA has revealed possible water plumes erupting from the surface of Europa.
The potential plumes were spotted in images taken by the Hubble Telescope, the space agency said.
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The discovery makes it more likely that a future mission to the Jovian moon wouldn’t need to drill through “miles of ice” to sample water from an ocean, NASA said in a statement.
“Europa’s ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbour life in the solar system, said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. “These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa’s subsurface.”
If confirmed, these plumes mean a future Europa mission might not need to drill through thick ice
It’s estimated that the plumes shoot up to an altitude of roughly 200 kilometres above the surface of Europa.
Astronomers weren’t originally using Hubble to spot water vapour plumes. They were hoping to analyse the makeup of Europa’s exosphere before realising they could use the telescope to find the jets of (possible) water.
“If confirmed, Europa would be the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapour plumes. In 2005, NASA’s Cassini orbiter detected jets of water vapour and dust spewing off the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus,” NASA explained.