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Water vapor is formed when the moon’s icy surface changes from a solid to a gas, a process called sublimation. Astronomers discovered this water vapor while using a series of new and archival observations from Hubble.
Previous research found that Ganymede – the ninth largest object in our solar system – contains more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined, even though the moon is 2.4 times smaller than our planet.
But Ganymede is so cold, with temperatures as low as minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit (-184 degrees Celsius), that its surface is a snowy crust of icy water. About 100 miles (161 kilometers) below this crust is likely a salty ocean — and the researchers knew there was no way the ocean could evaporate through the ice crust to create water vapor.
The moon is named after the bearer of the bearers of the ancient Greek gods. In addition to being the largest natural satellite in our solar system, Ganymede is also the only moon with a magnetic field. This makes the auroras glow around the moon’s north and south poles.
The Hubble Telescope took its first ultraviolet image of Ganymede in 1998 and revealed these aurorae bands. Initially, researchers thought that these auroras were due to the atmosphere of pure oxygen, which was first discovered with the same telescope in 1996. But some features were inexplicable and looked slightly different.
Ganymede’s surface temperature can vary widely during the day. In the afternoon at the moon’s equator, it gets warm enough for the icy surface to sublimate or release small amounts of water molecules — which explains the differences seen in the ultraviolet images captured by Hubble. Although Ganymede’s icy crust is as hard as rock, the influx of charged particles from the sun is enough to erode and release water vapor.
The European Space Agency’s JUICE mission, or JUpiter ICy Moon Explorer, will launch in 2022. It will reach Jupiter in 2029 and spend three years observing the giant planet and its three largest moons. Ganymede will be included in this study, and researchers hope to learn more about the moon as a potential habitat for life.
“Our results can provide JUICE instrument teams with valuable information that can be used to improve their monitoring plans to improve spacecraft utilization,” said lead author Lorenz Roth, a researcher at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Statement.
By understanding more about Ganymede, researchers can learn more about how gas giants like Jupiter and its moons form and evolve over time — and whether icy moons, scattered across our solar system, are habitable environments where life makes its way. can find.
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