NASA scientists have for the first time spotted the presence of water vapor in the atmosphere of Ganymede, the icy moon of Jupiter.
Astronomers have used recent and archived data collected by the Hubble telescope, they explained in a study presenting their discovery published Monday in
The natural satellite is located about 600 million kilometers from Earth.
It is the largest celestial object of this category in the solar system, NASA said on its site.
Previous research has uncovered evidence showing that Ganymede has a greater volume of water than all of Earth's oceans.
Due to extremely low temperatures, however, the satellite's surface is covered with ice.
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A new study of information provided for nearly 20 years by Hubble has allowed researchers to spot violent changes in temperature on the moon's surface depending on the time of day.
Around noon, at the level of the Ganymede equator, the heat is high enough for the ice to let out small quantities of water molecules.
"The water vapor we measured originates from the sublimation of ice caused by the thermal escape of water vapor in warm glacial regions," said astronomer Lorenz Roth, lead author of the study. .
Hubble and its STIS telescope were able to observe changes in the surface of Jupiter's moon as well as features revealed by ultraviolet and near-infrared wavelengths.
Scientists' work will contribute to a better understanding of how giant gas planets and their satellites are born and evolve.
They will also be able to offer clues on the possible habitability of exoplanetary systems similar to Jupiter.
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