Transient Water Vapor at Europa’s South Pole

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Science  12 Dec 2013:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1247051

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In November and December 2012 the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imaged Europa’s ultraviolet emissions in the search for vapor plume activity. We report statistically significant coincident surpluses of hydrogen Lyman-α and oxygen OI130.4 nm emissions above the southern hemisphere in December 2012. These emissions are persistently found in the same area over ~7 hours, suggesting atmospheric inhomogeneity; they are consistent with two 200-km-high plumes of water vapor with line-of-sight column densities of about 1020 m−2. Nondetection in November and in previous HST images from 1999 suggests varying plume activity that might depend on changing surface stresses based on Europa’s orbital phases. The plume was present when Europa was near apocenter and not detected close to its pericenter, in agreement with tidal modeling predictions.

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