Europa Plumes: New Evidence Found for Water on Jupiter Moon

Europa Plumes: New Evidence Found for Water on Jupiter Moon

Europa Plumes: New Evidence Found for Water on Jupiter Moon

The water could be found deep in a global ocean beneath the moon's hard, icy exterior.

The prospect of the water gushing from the Moon's interior has tantalized scientists, as that warm, vast interior ocean is thought to be one of the best places in the Solar System beyond Earth-if not the best-to look for extant life.

Data from the Galileo telescope has shown Jupiter's moon Europa has a magnetic field that vents out plumes of liquid water above the surface.

Flying at 6km (3.7 miles) a second Galileo made its closest ever flyby, shooting across the surface at an altitude of 200km (125 miles) when it detected something unusual.

The Galileo spacecraft of NASA traveled hundred twenty-five miles atop the Jupiter moon, Europa's surface on 19 December in the year 1997.

The image at the head of this article is an artist's interpretation of what a plume of water vapor might look like blasting from Europa's surface.

However, a new study seeking evidence of water plumes on the surface of Jupiter's Moon Europa demonstrates that, even now, Galileo is providing valuable information. Mike Brown, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology, said in a tweet he is a "big Europa fan", but "so far, all of the evidence for plumes on Europa has been hopeful, rather than truly convincing".

The team reconstructed the spacecraft's path to pinpoint the plume's location on the moon's surface. The findings are good news for the Europa Clipper mission, which may launch as early as June 2022, NASA said.

Jia hopes this paper will inspire fellow researchers to keep looking at Europa's plumes.

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There has been much speculation about the possibility of life on Europa.

The Europa Clipper mission will study Europa for two years, spending time orbiting Jupiter and making at least 40 close flybys of Europa.

But in 2016, and again in 2017, scientists reported that more Hubble images pointed to the presence of a plume, though something less dramatically exuberant than the geysers of Enceladus, which fly so high that they create a ring around Saturn.

Both NASA and the European Space Agency have missions to Jupiter and Europa planned. This mission would launch in the 2020s and would pass by Europa enough times to (hopefully) detect water plumes with more confidence than ever found before.

The new study, which was published online today (May 14) in the journal Nature Astronomy, is undoubtedly of great interest to NASA.

But the sensitivity of telescopic data is limited, and more was needed to be sure that these were really plumes, the researchers said.

The real question is: If we do send a probe there, and if NASA confirms the existence of extraterrestrial life hiding below Europa's frosty exterior, what will we do next?

"Using the probe we can detect particles, use the mass spectrometer to tell what the atmosphere is made of and sample its very tenuous atmosphere", Elizabeth Turtle, research scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory said in a press conference on Monday. The finding also bolsters hypotheses that posit parts of Europa's crust are far thinner and more fractured than previously believed-conditions that may allow life-sustaining energy as well as exploratory robots easier entry into the moon's lightless abyss. This new analysis adds backing to theories that an ocean of liquid salt water exists below the ice. A couple of years ago, the Hubble Space Telescope captured water vapor plumes, a hint there could be water on Jupiter.

"This wasn't planned out", study author Xianzhe Jia from the University of MI explains to Gizmodo.

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