Scientists have just made major progress in their search for alien life. Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 moons, has long been the frontrunner for celestial bodies potentially housing water — and, therefore, life — and now we’re closer than ever to proving that true. For the first time ever, NASA scientists have measured the presence of water vapor on the surface of Europa, detecting small bursts of water beneath the moon’s icy surface.
According to team leader and planetary scientist Lucas Paganini, “Essential chemical elements (carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur) and sources of energy, two of three requirements for life, are found all over the solar system. But the third — liquid water — is somewhat hard to find beyond Earth.”
However, the team spotted traces of water molecules spotting from Europa’s surface. They were able to detect this movement because when water vapor interacts with solar radiation, it emits wavelengths of infrared light that can be detected by telescopes. As it turns out, Europa is actually emitting lots of water vapor — around 5,202 pounds per second.
NASA’s Europe Clipper mission will visit the moon sometime in the next 10 years, though a specific date hasn’t yet been determined. It will play a huge role in finding more emission plumes and potentially getting closer to finding evidence of life.