Published: Tue, May 15, 2018
Technology | By Russell Knight

Jupiter's Moon Europa Shoots Water Into Space, New Research Suggests

Jupiter's Moon Europa Shoots Water Into Space, New Research Suggests

Twice before has Nasa reported evidence, from its Hubble Space Telescope, for the existence of water plumes on Europa, though this interpretation has caused much debate.

With 3-D modeling to tie all these factors together, the data signature lined up perfectly to suggest that during the 1997 flyby, Galileo flew through a plume, Kivelson said. Before heading to a meeting of scientists working on the Clipper mission, a thought occurred to Dr. McGrath: "Gee, I really should check to see if any of them line up with any of the claimed plume detections", from Hubble.

Almost 15 years have passed since NASA sent its Galileo spacecraft flying into Jupiter's outer atmosphere to die-eliminating the possibility of contaminating nearby Jovian moons with any traces of Earth bacteria.

The discovery has cemented the view among some scientists that the Jovian moon, one of four first spotted by the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1610, is the most promising place in the solar system to hunt for alien life. And while NASA already has plans to explore Europa, this is the most heartening sign of life that planetary scientists have been waiting for. "It's more likely to come from pockets of liquid that are closer to the surface - so, not free ocean samples, but free subsurface samples".

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These findings will inform and draw more interest in NASA's Europa Clipper and the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) missions, planned to launch in the mid-2020s and in 2022, respectively.

"Given the evidence of plumes available so far, there is a good chance that those spacecraft may obtain direct measurements of plumes ejecting material from the subsurface ocean into space", said Jia.

The final ingredient was the data from Hubble that suggested dimensions of potential plumes, NASA said. So a team of United States astronomers went back and took a second look at data collected by the Galileo spacecraft during its eight-year stay in the Jovian system. They may even be able to detect extraterrestrial bacteria lurking in the waters-but only if the plumes exist. The magnetic detectors recorded a kink in the magnetic field and the on-board plasma wave spectrometer picked up increased levels of ionized particles.

Or, maybe when the powerful James Webb Space Telescope finally launches (it has been pushed back several times), it will get a clearer picture of what is happening on the alien moon. If plumes are indeed spewing vapor from Europa's ocean or subsurface lakes, Europa Clipper could sample the frozen liquid and dust particles.

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Researchers have now re-examined those signatures according to a report in the journal Nature Astronomy after one presented their findings from Hubble Space Telescope data about water plumes erupting from the moon.

"If plumes exist, and we can directly sample what's coming from the interior of Europa, then we can more easily get at whether Europa has the ingredients for life", he said in a statement.

Rather than land on the surface and drill as much as 15 miles through ice - a feat that has never been achieved even on Earth - a spacecraft could simply fly through the spray and test its contents. Both of these observations provide strong evidence of a plume, Jia said. The spacecraft will make repeated flybys of Jupiter and more than 40 close passes by Europa at altitudes as low as 16 miles.

By reanalysing old Galileo data, researchers just discovered that the robot accidentally flew through a giant jet or plume of water sprayed from Europa's ocean. Schmidt, an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, is also one of the architects of the project that became the Europa Clipper mission.

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"During Galileo, we'd always known there was something weird during this flyby", Cynthia Phillips, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was quoted as saying.

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