Magazine article Science News

Europa's Geysers Play Hard-to-See: Further Observations of Jovian Moon Fail to Detect Venting

Magazine article Science News

Europa's Geysers Play Hard-to-See: Further Observations of Jovian Moon Fail to Detect Venting

Article excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO--If Europa is venting its watery interior into space, it's doing so stealthily. Follow-up observations of Jupiter's icy moon failed to confirm the existence of powerful geysers observed by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2012, researchers reported December 19 at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union. The fruitless search, when combined with other recent results, suggests that Europa's plumes erupt weakly or sporadically, if at all.

The stakes are high for observing plumes on Europa. The moon's surface ice shell conceals a vast ocean that represents one of the potentially most habitable extraterrestrial environments in the solar system. Geysers would make the contents of that ocean, including water, minerals and perhaps even life, accessible to future spacecraft. "We're holding our breath to see if and when they get another observation," said planetary scientist Cynthia Phillips of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. "Until then, the geysers are in the intriguing but unproven category."

The first sign of geyser activity emerged in 2013 when scientists analyzing Hubble data detected ultraviolet radiation at the telltale frequencies emitted by hydrogen and oxygen atoms above Europa's southern hemisphere. Space scientist Lorenz Roth of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and colleagues concluded that the moon was venting water into space (SN: 1/25/14, p. 6).

The discovery opened up the tantalizing possibility that Jupiter's most intriguing moon routinely expels samples of its shielded ocean (SN: 5/17/14, p. 20). Researchers were hopeful that follow-up observations would reveal active geysers similar to the plumes on Saturn's moon Enceladus, which have been erupting constantly since their discovery by the Cassini probe in 2005.

Yet nature has not made things so simple, Roth said. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.