This reprocessed colour view of Jupiter’s moon Europa was made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s.

NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope images and spectra have revealed that water vapor is present in the atmosphere of the icy moon Europa – one of Jupiter’s 79 moons.

Research scientists suspect that Europa harbors a vast ocean underneath its icy surface, perhaps hosting extraterrestrial life.

For the first time, an astronomer has discovered evidence for persistent water vapor in the atmosphere of Europa. Despite the presence of water vapor on Europa’s trailing hemisphere there is no indication of H2O on the leading hemisphere of Europa.

Hubble spectrograph

To make this discovery, Lorenz Roth of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, dove into archival Hubble datasets, selecting ultraviolet observations of Europa from 1999, 2012, 2014 and 2015 while the moon was at various orbital positions.

Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS).
Credit: Ball Aerospace

These observations were all taken with one of Hubble’s most versatile instruments — the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS). These ultraviolet STIS observations allowed Roth to determine the abundance of oxygen — one of the constituents of water — in Europa’s atmosphere, and by interpreting the strength of emission at different wavelengths he was able to infer the presence of water vapor.

Icefin is a small robotic oceanographer that allows researchers to study ice and water around and beneath ice shelves – and develop the technology to explore other oceans in our solar system.
Courtesy: Cornell University

Icefin: robotic oceanographer

Meanwhile, research focused on Europa, is taking place in Antarctica.

Icefin is a small robotic oceanographer that allows researchers to study ice and water around and beneath ice shelves – and develop the technology to explore other oceans in our solar system.

The Icefin underwater vehicle has sonar, chemical and biological sensors that help researchers characterize sub-ice environments.
Courtesy: Cornell University

 

Icefin – shaped like a torpedo, 13 feet long and 10 inches wide – carries cameras, sonar equipment, speed sensors, water column measuring tools and other devices. The team slips it into open water through a hole drilled in thick ice on the surface.

Hardest environment

“My team and I focus on how ice and oceans work across the solar system, including Earth. Particularly, we focus on Europa, the innermost icy moon of Jupiter,” says Cornell’s Britney Schmidt.

Britney Schmidt, associate professor of astronomy and of earth and atmospheric sciences, and her team set up their field site in Antarctica in 2018. They’re currently in Antarctica through February 2022.
Courtesy: Cornell University

“We’re trying to explore underwater, under ice, the hardest environment you can imagine – the most like Europa,” Schmidt said in a Cornell statement. “If we want to explore Europa with an underwater probe someday, we’ve got to do it here first.”

Field work for this project is being conducted in McMurdo Station in Antarctica and in the nearby seas, and receives funding from NASA and support from Antarctica New Zealand and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Go to this video describing the Icefin research, at:

https://youtu.be/iIr-HKzGEpc

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