Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, is often described as looking like a "veiny eyeball." Though the name doesn't do it justice with its incredible physical characteristics that look like veins running all along, and crisscrossing the celestial object.
Europa is unique in that, of all the planets and moons and other objects in our solar system, it has the greatest likelihood of supporting life.
A paper released by NASA scientists has confirmed what many thought all along, that underneath Europa's icy surface, lies a massive untapped reservoir of water. As one of the quintessential building blocks of life anywhere, finding this amount of water anywhere beyond Earth is a huge discovery.
A NASA research team used the Keck Observatory Telescope on Mauna Kea Hawaii to capture the amazing pictures. The largest astronomical telescope in the world, the scientists watched the surface of Europa for 17 days they, and managed to get very lucky.
On one of the days observing, they managed to catch a plume of vapor rising from the surface, exactly what they were searching for.
Using a spectograph to analyze the vapor, they confirmed that the molecules they were seeing expelled from the surface, were in fact water.
Canadian Professor Lyle White is an expert in Polar microbiology, or the study of life found in the harshest conditions. He says that these plumes jetting from Europa's surface are definitely water vapor, which means there is a high probability of liquid water under the surface.
This also means the potential for microorganisms to be found on Europa. With similar organisms living in the harshest and oxygen-deprived environments on Earth, the idea isn't far-fetched at all.
NASA's spacecraft, the "Europa Clipper", is part of a flyby mission planned for 2025. It is expected to complete at least 45 flybys of Europa during its mission.
The instruments on board the Europa Clipper will allow it to take close up pictures of the moon itself, as well as actually see under the ice to determine what is there. But what's more, is that NASA is hoping to soon also send a probe directly into one of the vapor plumes, in order to determine exactly what it's makeup is.