Further Evidence for Ocean Under Europa’s Icy Surface

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It’s been strongly suspected for some time now in the scientific community that one of Jupiter’s Moons, Europa, probably hides a vast ocean over 60 miles deep under its scarred global sheet of ice.

Adding to the evidence for this theory, scientists now believe they have detected spikes in Hydrogen and Oxygen near the southern hemisphere via ultraviolet images taken by the Hubble which apparently indicate strong evidence for the presence of immense geysers of water vapor 20 times higher than Mt. Everest sporadically pluming out from under the icy surface.

Studies suggest these plumes could be coming from some of the long cracks in the icy surface called lineae, which act as vents through which the water vapor escapes into space. Europa’s plume phenomenon may vary depending on the moon’s position in its orbit, with no signs of venting when it draws close to Jupiter. One possibility for this is that the lineae are pulled apart when the moon is farther away due to more stress brought on by gravitational tidal forces pushing and pulling on the lunar body. This “stretching” would support another key prediction that if Europa contains a vast ocean, it should tidally flex by a significant amount due to Jupiter’s immense gravitational pull. Though more research is needed in order to confirm the source of the water vapor, researchers say these plumes could provide insight into the composition of the ocean below the moon’s icy crust.

Plumes or no plumes, research by Mike Brown, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and Kevin Hand from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, details the strongest evidence yet that salty water from the vast liquid ocean beneath Europa’s frozen exterior actually makes its way to the surface. Finding evidence of these types of organic compounds and salt being exchanged from the surface to the ocean blow, is believed to boost the odds of finding life considerably. This also allows studies to directly investigate the chemical makeup of Europa’s ocean environment without having to drill through the ice.

Keeping in mind, that since it’s statistically inevitable that Europa has been bombarded by many comets during its long lifetime, and since comets are known to contain carbon-based organic compounds, the oceans would be laced with that as well, rounding out the recipe for life.

For more information, check out: Space.com or NASA