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Water Plumes on Europa: What Lies Beneath?

12 Dec 2013, 20:58 UTC
Water Plumes on Europa: What Lies Beneath?
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Because of this new result, exploration of Jupiter's icy moon may turn out to be much easier than we thought.

Artwork: K. Retherford, SWRI
Scientists have found evidence of two giant plumes of water vapor emanating from the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa, according to a new report in the journal Science.
Lorenz Roth, Joachim Saur and colleagues used the Hubble Space Telescope to measure ultraviolet emissions from Europa, and saw hydrogen and oxygen concentrations consistent with 120-mile-high water vapor plumes. The density of the water vapor represents an intermediate case between plumes previously observed on the nearby moon Io and the low-gravity outpouring of water vapor at Saturn’s small moon Enceladus. The water content in Europa’s plumes is 10 to 100 times higher than what exists in the moon’s tenuous atmosphere, and seems to be located in regions where tidal stress is strongest. The height of the plumes suggests the kind of violent supersonic eruption velocities that scientists have seen on Enceladus. What’s significant, though, is that Europa is a much larger moon, and is one of the likeliest spots in the solar system to find life.
The tidal flexing of Europa’s icy crust is readily visible in its ...

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