NASA to Release Information About Activity on Jupiter’s MoonFirst Published: December 5, 2016 Last updated: May 10th, 2017 Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes
Last month, NASA informed us all that they had something pretty funky going on near Jupiter. As a planet with several moons, it’s icy moon known as Europa was apparently showing some interesting findings. Having been searching underneath the surface of the moon to try and locate the source of this, NASA came across something rather awesome.
Unfortunately, NASA have a habit of somewhat over-egging announcements. It was sold as something ‘surprising’ so naturally people got really excited. Had they found something that showed evidence of another species? Of sentient life? Of previous human expansion to the stars?
People got themselves into a state of excitement. The Hubble Telescope had picked up some very interesting images from the body of the object itself. Many people immediately believed it could be pointing to the signs of an ocean, of life, or both. Either way, this was going to be something massive – it had to be!
Already, large amounts of information existed about the potential for finding water on the planet in the past. It was suggested that deep within the crust, there could be a body of water which would have favourable conditions for life.
At the announcement, NASA made clear that “astronomers will present results from a unique Europa observing campaign that resulted in surprising evidence of activity that may be related to the presence of a subsurface ocean,”
Eventually, the wait was over – the following Monday at 2PM, an announcement was made. Paul Hertz, the director of astrophysics at NASA, was to be present. So was William Sparks, an astronomer who worked with the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore.
All this excitement came amid a lot of activity regarding Europa. In the past, NASA spoke of ambitions to send robot crafts to learn.
In 2012, NASA made an important discovery when looking at the moon. Despite learning missions not going to be possible until the 2020s, important information has been discovered without such in-depth exploration. NASA announced that the Hubble Telescope had “observed water vapour” above the South Pole region of the moon. At the time, it was merely speculation that this was proof of water existing from underneath the moon.
Many, though, were undeterred – they simply had to know. So, research has continued and eventually it looks like something worthwhile may have been found. So, was the information worth the wait?
The conference began and before long we knew what the surprise was – what we thought all along. NASA confirmed the discovery of water plumes under the surface. Whilst not as fun as finding that they came across E.T. or have discovered Element Zero, it’s still a big and exciting discovery for lovers of all things outside of this planet.
What was spotted was large water plumes bursting out from underneath the icy surface of the moon itself. This puts this moon on part with Ganymede, another Jupiter moon, and Saturn’s two moons, Titan and Encedalus.
In the past, those moons were seen as the most favourable locations to start searching for alien life in the near future. Whilst there is no surface liquid like you get with the other two, it’s got plenty of liquid found underneath the crust of the moon itself.
However, it’s more than was expected to have been found. This isn’t just a puddle or a small amount. From what we can tell it covers the whole moon itself. So, in terms of being a place where life might hang out, it’s a far more natural place (to us) than, say, the methane lakes on Titan.
Reaching the Limit
Frustratingly, though, this “confirmation” cannot be confirmed yet. The simple reason is that, being hundreds of millions of miles away, the Hubble is really beginning to strain. As such, the chances for errors creeping into the findings isn’t exactly an out their theory – it’s literally happening.
Not only is the moon so far away that any kind of investigation would be more or less impossible at present, but it’s a much different kind of moon to the others. Whilst Encedalus had plumes bursting out for some time, creating a ridge on the surface, it’s all bunched up together. This moon, by contrast, is more or less all over the place.
The massive gravitational pull of Jupiter itself is causing utter havoc with the moon, too. The tug makes the ridges being formed by the water much harder to operate alongside. The frictional heating that is occurring might even manage to keep the ocean liquid too far from a good solar energy source.
This means that even if plumes are spotted further, they are going to be increasingly difficult to make out.
Therefore, even just catching a glimpse of these plumes is a pretty big deal. It also does slightly increase the chances of the logistic issues above not being as bad as they may sound at present. The hope is that they will be able to scan the plan without having to do any kind of digging, drilling or anything else.
Since the cost to get high-powered drilling equipment to the location would be hard enough, it’s not an outcome anyone expects to see. By simply flying through the plumes when they appear, it is going to be much easier, cheaper and faster to start searching for signs of life and of natural chemicals appearing here.
The Missing Link
Whilst it appears that a brick wall has been hit in terms of technological potential at this moment that can change. Since we are looking at water as the necessity for all life as we know it, it helps to look only at locations with a strong source of water. As far as we know, then, this is the only location in our system with such a high depth of water.
The only thing that could be more interesting than finding life in the water, though, would be if we found life that didn’t need water itself. Now that would be a pretty immense discovery, wouldn’t it?
We’ll keep you updated on the latest developments from this next stage of space exploration. Hopefully it won’t be long until we can have some kind of concrete, conclusive proof that what was found here lives up to its expectations.