Featured Image: Active Cryovolcanism on Europa?

Nighttime thermal image from the Galileo Photopolarimeter-Radiometer, revealing a thermal anomaly around the region where the plumes were observed. [Sparks et al. 2017]

This image shows a 1320 × 900 km, high-resolution Galileo/Voyager USGS map of the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. In March 2014, observations of Europa revealed a plume on its icy surface coming from somewhere within the green ellipse. In February 2016, another plume was observed, this time originating from somewhere within the cyan ellipse. In addition, a nighttime thermal image from the Galileo Photopolarimeter-Radiometer has revealed a “thermal anomaly” — a region of unusually high temperature — near the same location. In a recent study led by William Sparks (Space Telescope Science Institute), a team of scientists presents these observations and argues that they provide mounting evidence of active water-vapor venting from ongoing cryovolcanism beneath Europa’s icy surface. If this is true, then Europa’s surface is active and provides access to the liquid water at depth — boosting the case for Europa’s potential habitability and certainly making for an interesting target point for future spacecraft exploration of this moon. For more information, check out the paper below!


W. B. Sparks et al 2017 ApJL 839 L18. doi:10.3847/2041-8213/aa67f8