CAPE CANAVERAL (CBSMiami) – A composite image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows possible plumes of water vapor erupting off the limb of Jupiter’s moon Europa.
The moon appears to have an extensive ocean of water.
“Today’s results increase our confidence that water and other materials from Europa’s hidden ocean might be on the surface and available for us to study,” said Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
The observations, and earlier Hubble studies that found signs of plumes using a different technique, are at the limits of the space telescope’s capabilities, and researchers cautioned they were not yet ready to say with certainty that water plumes have, in fact, been detected.
But William Sparks, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore who led the latest study, said no other known natural phenomenon can explain the observations.
“I’m not aware of any other plausible natural explanation,” he told reporters. “The only other possible explanation that we’ve been considering is the possibility of some internal instrumental effect.”
That said, the presumed plumes “appear to be real, the statistical signifiance is pretty good and I don’t know of any other natural alternative,” Sparks said.
NASA scientists considered it to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system.