Water plumes on Europa plus hydrogen in Enceladus plumes


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Scientists have detected more evidence of underground oceans on both Europa (orbiting Jupiter) and Enceladus (orbiting Saturn).

In the case of Europa, the Hubble Space Telescope has once again detected plumes of water ice being shot up from cracks in the moon’s surface. This second detection confirms the first from two years ago.

In the case of Enceladus, Cassini data has detected the presence of hydrogen in the plumes totaling 1% of the total material in the plumes.

The Europa story is significant, in that it confirms that the moon is still active geologically, and that the underground ocean is interacting with the outside world by ejecting material from it to the surface. This increases the odds that there will be some very intriguing chemistry in that ocean, including the possibility of organic life.

The Enceladus story puzzles me. We already know that the plumes there are made of water, which in itself is one third hydrogen. Why should anyone be surprised that a portion of that water gets split so that some of the hydrogen gets released as an atom instead of part of the water molecule. In fact, this discovery does not seem to me to be much of a discovery at all, but simply a confirmation that the plumes have the materials from the water ocean below the surface. That NASA has pushed it this week so hard in conjunction with their future Europa Clipper mission suggests that this part of the press story is really about lobbying for funds and has little to do with science.

2 comments

  • raymond mckay

    maybe, the water is being split by microbial processes ?

  • Max

    Unlikely, Europa has little to no atmosphere and is slightly smaller than our moon. (250 miles smaller in diameter) The temperature there is a -260° to -307°F
    Water would have to be hot to spray into the air and would immediately boil and refreeze and subelement to the Darkside of the moon (it is in tidal lock receiving most of its heat from Jupiter itself)
    Finding 1% hydrogen is no big deal, solar wind would produce more than that. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in our solar system. A catalyst will release hydrogen (like Iridium, platinum, stainless steel nickel) converting compounds from a high energy state, to a low energy state like water. (H4O2)
    If there is life on the moons, it would be unlike anything on earth.
    So I am in agreement with Robert, this is about lobbying for funds and not about science… Just the same, let’s go there and find out! Out there is our future.

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