Old Data Reveal 'Plumes' On Jupiter's Moon That Could Host Life

Yes, Europa really is sending plumes of water into space

Yes, Europa really is sending plumes of water into space

Artist's illustration of Jupiter and Europa (in the foreground) with the Galileo spacecraft after its pass through a plume erupting from Europa's surface.

The European Space Agency also is planning a mission, known as JUICE, for JUpiter ICy moons Exlorer, that will arrive in 2029 and spend three years studying the planet, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. It appears that during some of those periodic observations, the telescope spotted evidence of water vapor emissions coming from Europa's surface.

According to a study released past year, the Hubble Space Telescope showed a water plume erupting on the warmest part of the surface of Europa, whose ocean contains twice as much water as Earth's seas.

"Our detection of a plume based on the Galileo data certainly strengthens the case for future exploration of Europa", Jia said.

The research was led by space physicist Xianzhe Jia at the University of MI in Ann Arbor. Still, Xianzhe Jia, an associate professor at the University of MI, guessed that there may be clues lurking in the information that was beamed back.

The tallest of the plumes was so powerful that it extended 120 miles above the moon's surface; Old Faithful, the famous geyser at Yellowstone, reaches 184 feet.

Last month researchers found two lakes hidden under thick ice in Canada that could be similar to the conditions found on Jupiter's moon Europa. Data from Galileo's Plasma Wave Spectrometer also supported the existence of plumes in Europa. The prevailing theory is the water comes directly from Europa's subsurface ocean and is being driven upward by hydrothermal activity much like that which powers geysers on Earth.

The revelation has again emphasised the scientific consensus that Europa, which has a salty ocean twice the size of Earth's, could be home to extraterrestrial life. Back in 1997, it's nearly as if researchers didn't know to look for plumes of this sort - or simply did not expect such things. The final ingredient was the data from Hubble that suggested dimensions of potential plumes.

They layered the magnetometry and plasma wave signatures into new 3D modelling developed at the University of MI in the U.S., which simulated the interactions of plasma with solar system bodies. Now that we have this unearthed Galileo data, scientists can better plot the trajectory of the spacecraft to ensure we gather more data on these plumes, and Europa's subsurface ocean as a result.

"If we can take samples directly from the interior of Europa, we can see more clearly if it has the ingredients for life", said Robert Pappalardo, a scientist at NASA's Europa Clipper mission, a mission that could be launched in June 2022.

"I think it tells you there's probably more plumes than we can see right now, because the odds that we'd happen to fly through the only one that exists are pretty low", McGrath says.

"This allows us to Examine the surface in very close detail also creates It simpler to study the air since there'll be more substance nearer to the surface", Turtle said.

NASA plans to further explore ocean worlds in our solar system through the Europa Clipper mission, the first to explore an alien ocean. During that time, the spacecraft made 11 flybys of Europa, including one in which it came to within a few hundred kilometers of the moon's surface.

Galileo found Europa's magnetic field intensified and shifted orientation just as the spacecraft made its closest approach to the moon.

There has been much speculation about the possibility of life on Europa. That's the big picture.

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