NASA May Have Confirmed the Existence of Water on Jupiter

Thursday, 30 August 2018 - 12:11PM
Space
Solar System
NASA
Thursday, 30 August 2018 - 12:11PM
NASA May Have Confirmed the Existence of Water on Jupiter
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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Christopher Go
Water is the key for a lot more than just life in the cosmic scheme of things—as one of the most abundant solvents in the universe it has the potential to start chemical reactions, which means wherever you find water in space, you can expect to find some interesting things going on. But forget about exotic, far-off exoplanets—astronomers are still trying to figure out whether planets in our solar system contain water. Now, we may finally have a lock on Jupiter, which has kept its water hidden for years.

A team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, led by Gordon L. Bjoraker, reported in the Astronomical Journal that they have finally spotted water in Jupiter's Great Red Spot. Using ground-based telescopes, the team was able to pick up on thermal radiation from deep within the storm and identify water clouds floating within the interior of the planet, along with large amounts of oxygen.

Despite being the largest planet in the solar system, scientists' attempt to spot water on the planet have been foiled again and again, despite evidence that the planet should be water-rich. "The moons that orbit Jupiter are mostly water ice, so the whole neighborhood has plenty of water," said Bjoraker. "Why wouldn't the planet-which is this huge gravity well, where everything falls into it-be water rich, too?" The mention of Jupiter's gravity well is a reference to the growing theory that Jupiter has a core of rock and ice, rather than just layers of gas, like the Sun.

So what's keeping NASA from sending a probe into Jupiter's atmosphere and taking some samples? Well, they tried that in 1995 with the Galileo mission, during which the probe landed in what's now recognized as an unusually dry region. "It's like sending a probe to Earth, landing in the Mojave Desert, and concluding the Earth is dry,"quipped Bjoraker.

For years, Jupiter has been treated more or less as an analogue for the Sun, since the current theory is that Jupiter formed from material cast off from the star early in the solar system's development. Considering this new discovery, as well as its potentially solid core, Jupiter may be more complex than previously thought.
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