Rice planetary geophysicist available to discuss Europa discovery

David Ruth

Jade Boyd

Rice planetary geophysicist available to discuss Europa discovery

Expert available for interviews following NASA’s 2 p.m. EDT news conference

HOUSTON — (Sept. 26, 2016) — Rice University planetary geophysicist Adrian Lenardic is available to discuss the latest scientific discovery about Jupiter’s moon Europa following the announcement of the new findings at a NASA press conference today at 2 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time.

Lenardic, a professor of geophysics and planetary science in Rice’s Department of Earth Science, said the space agency will most likely reveal visual evidence of a liquid water ocean beneath Europa’s icy surface.

Jupiter's icy moon Europa

The surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa was revealed in these images from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. (Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

In announcing the news conference last week, NASA said it would “present new findings from images captured by the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope.” The space agency said scientists at the conference will “present results from a unique Europa observing campaign that resulted in surprising evidence of activity that may be related to the presence of a subsurface ocean on Europa.”

“Life, as we know it, requires liquid water, and Europa’s on NASA’s hit list because it is one of the most likely places to find water in our solar system,” Lenardic said. “If you find a place with liquid water, the potential that it could host life, be it probably little bacteria at this point in time, increases. And that’s the excitement. That’s the draw.”

Europa, one of Jupiter’s largest moons, is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon. It is believed to have a rocky core, and its icy surface shows signs of deformation that suggest the ice may be reshaped constantly by a subsurface, watery ocean. In 2013 NASA announced that the Hubble Space Telescope had found evidence of water vapor in Europa’s atmosphere, but to date there has been no definitive visual evidence of water geysers on Europa.

“Neither Hubble’s cameras nor the instruments from other spacecraft are going to see actual evidence of life on the surface,” Lenardic said. “When you consider that most scientists are already convinced that a subsurface ocean exists on Europa, I suspect today’s announcement will be definitive evidence of activity in the near-surface ice. The most spectacular would be if they’ve seen some sort of water geyser or ice coming out, similar to things that have been seen on Saturn’s moon Enceladus in 2005.”

Lenardic will be available for interviews following the NASA news conference. To arrange an interview, contact David Ruth at david@rice.edu or 713-348-6327 or Jade Boyd at jadeboyd@rice.edu or 713-348-6778.


IMAGE available for download:

CAPTION: The surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa was revealed in these images from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. (Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

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About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.