Europa is a large icy moon of Jupiter. It is considered one of the most serious candidates in the solar system for the search for life forms. Scientists have already shown that it harbors, under its icy surface crust, a liquid ocean of salt water whose composition is close to that of the Earth’s oceans. It is also animated by active plate tectonics, is home to geysers gushing from the South Pole and probably undersea volcanoes. So many criteria favorable to life. A surprising new feature has just been discovered: Europa’s atmosphere contains a stable amount of water vapor.
Using a technique that recently resulted in the discovery of water vapor in the atmosphere of another Jupiter moon, Ganymede, Lorenz Roth of the Royal Stockholm Institute of Technology found evidence of the presence of water in the anti-Jovian hemisphere of Europe. Like our satellite, Europa is in synchronous rotation around Jupiter and always presents the same face to it, the subjovian hemisphere. Therefore, it is on the other hand that water vapor was identified by re-analyzing the Hubble archive data from 1999 to 2015. Made by the STIS spectrograph, these observations in the field of ultraviolet rays allowed ‘to establish the abundance of oxygen in the atmosphere and its constituent part of water.
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