Explanation for formation of abundant features on Europa bodes well for search for extraterrestrial life

Europa is a prime candidate for life in our solar system, and its deep saltwater ocean has captivated scientists for decades. But it’s enclosed by an icy shell that could be miles to tens of miles thick, making sampling it a daunting prospect. Now, increasing evidence reveals the ice shell may be less of a barrier and more of a dynamic system – and site of potential habitability in its own right.

Hubble Finds First Evidence of Water Vapor at Jupiter’s Moon Ganymede

Located ½-billion miles from the Sun, the water ice on Ganymede’s surface is frozen solid in frigid temperatures as low as minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes the ice as hard as rock. Still, a rain of charged particles from the Sun is enough to turn the ice into water vapor at high noon on Ganymede. This is the first time such evidence has been found, courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope’s spectroscopic observations of aurora on Ganymede spanning two decades. The auroras are used to trace the presence of oxygen, which then is linked to the presence of water molecules sputtering off the surface. Ganymede has a deep ocean located an estimated 100 miles below the surface.

Weizmann Institute Scientists on the Juno Mission Reveal How Giant Cyclones Remain Stable at Jupiter’s Poles

A co-investigator on NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter, Prof. Yohai Kaspi and his team have made discoveries about the gas giant’s climate: Each pole has several Australia-sized cyclones that rarely change their size, number, or position because massive polar storms keep them at bay, and strong jet streams won’t let them form below a certain latitude.

How Rocks Rusted on Earth and Turned Red

How did rocks rust on Earth and turn red? A Rutgers-led study has shed new light on the important phenomenon and will help address questions about the Late Triassic climate more than 200 million years ago, when greenhouse gas levels were high enough to be a model for what our planet may be like in the future.

Hubble Captures Crisp New Portrait of Jupiter’s Storms

More massive than all the other planets combined, Jupiter truly is the king of our solar system. The swirling clouds, arranged in colorful, banded structures, change from year to year. The rich colors are produced by trace compounds in Jupiter’s predominantly hydrogen/helium atmosphere. Hurricane-force winds propel these clouds, and upwelling currents are ablaze with lightning bolts far more powerful than those seen on Earth.

The Hubble Space Telescope serves as a “weather satellite” for monitoring Jupiter’s stormy weather. The iconic Great Red Spot, a storm big enough to swallow Earth, shows that it’s shrinking a little in the Hubble images, but it still dominates the entire southern atmosphere, plowing through the clouds like a cargo ship.

Hubble astronomers patiently wait to get close-up snapshots as Earth make its nearest annual approach to Jupiter – an astronomical alignment called an opposition, when Jupiter is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun.

Gemini Gets Lucky and Takes a Deep Dive Into Jupiter’s Clouds

Researchers using a technique known as “lucky imaging” with the Gemini North telescope on Hawaii’s Maunakea have collected some of the highest resolution images of Jupiter ever obtained from the ground. These images are part of a multi-year joint observing program with the Hubble Space Telescope in support of NASA’s Juno mission. The Gemini images, when combined with the Hubble and Juno observations, reveal that lightning strikes, and some of the largest storm systems that create them, are formed in and around large convective cells over deep clouds of water ice and liquid. The new observations also confirm that dark spots in the famous Great Red Spot are actually gaps in the cloud cover and not due to cloud color variations.

Analysis of Galileo’s Jupiter Entry Probe Reveals Gaps in Heat Shield Modeling

The entry probe of the Galileo mission to Jupiter entered the planet’s atmosphere in 1995 in fiery fashion, generating enough heat to cause plasma reactions on its surface. The data relayed about the burning of its heat shield differed from the effects predicted in fluid dynamics models, and new work examines what might have caused such a discrepancy.