Scientists use Hawaii telescope to spot water vapor on distant moon

Scientists use Hawaii telescope to spot water vapor on distant moon
New Horizons took this image of the icy moon Europa rising above Jupiter's cloud tops in February 2007, six hours after the spacecraft's closest approach to Jupiter. (Source: NASA)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - NASA scientists using a telescope atop Mauna Kea have confirmed the presence of water vapor on the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 moons.

The find almost certainly means the moon has liquid water, an essential ingredient for life.

In fact, scientists believe that there’s a liquid water ocean on Europa beneath a miles-thick ice shell that has twice as much water as all of the oceans on Earth.

Lucas Paganini, a NASA planetary scientist who led the water detection investigation, said two of the three requirements for life ― essential chemical elements and sources of energy ― are found all over the solar systems. "But the third — liquid water — is somewhat hard to find beyond Earth,” he said.

Finding water vapor on Europa, he said, is the “next best thing” to liquid water.

The discovery was announced in an article published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Paganini and his team reported that they detected 5,200 pounds of water vapor being released from Europa per second. That’s enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool within minutes.

Europa ― located some 390 million miles away ― is slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon.

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