A team of NASA researchers has confirmed that traces of water vapors are present above the surface of Europa, an icy moon that orbits around Jupiter.
This is an important piece of information as Europa is one of the prime targets of studies that focus on the existence of life on other objects within the solar system. The water vapor found in Europa is big enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool in a few minutes. It may be easy to deem the amount as impressive, but it is barely enough to make it visible from Earth.
For the study, the researchers harnessed the power of the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, which can employ a spectrograph to determine the chemical composition of atmospheres present on other planets and objects by scanning the infrared light which is emitted or absorbed by the object.
Almost two decades ago, the Galileo spacecraft operated by NASA found traces of a fluid that can conduct electricity on the surface of Europa. A previous paper that was published in 2018 mentions that massive plumes of liquid were also present on the moon, a conclusion that was reinforced with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, which collected significant data.
Safety checks took place as the researchers wanted to improve the accuracy of the data and avoid any possible contaminants that could interfere in ground-based observations. While the data is quite interesting, NASA will have to send a dedicated spacecraft towards the moon to explore what happens on the surface.
Such a venture could take place sooner than some may expect as the Europa Clipper mission has been scheduled for 2023, to explore the icy moon and uncover many of its secrets. The spacecraft will carry a selection of tools that can collect important information.
The study was published in a scientific journal.