New evidence for water plumes on Jupiter's moon, Europa

This May Be the Best Evidence Yet of a Water Plume on Jupiter's Moon Europa

This May Be the Best Evidence Yet of a Water Plume on Jupiter's Moon Europa

New research on a sort-of old set of data points toward a water plume on Jupiter's moon Europa.

NASA officials have also said they'd like Clipper to dive through Europa's putative plumes, if possible, to potentially grab fresh samples of the moon's ocean (if plume material is indeed coming directly from that ocean).

Jupiter's moon Europa, as photographed by NASA's Galileo spacecraft.

Near Enceladus' south pole, more than 100 individual geysers continuously blast water ice, organic molecules and other material far out into space - so far that this plume stuff forms Saturn's E ring. 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. The team also zeroed in on the location of the plume on the moon's surface, which matches up with a "hot spot" that could be explained by warm water making its way up through Europa's icy shell, much like the famed geysers of Yellowstone and elsewhere on Earth.

The interpretation of those images has been debated; the images pushed the limits of Hubble's sensitivity, and sometimes the space telescope was unable to spot the plumes altogether. Both of these observations provide strong evidence of a plume, Jia said. Jia and his team took an in-depth look at information the probe gathered during the closest of these encounters - a 1997 flyby that brought Galileo within 128 miles (206 km) of the moon's frigid, fractured surface.

That mission had a severe shortcoming: The spacecraft's more powerful antenna failed to deploy after launch, limiting the amount of data the spacecraft could send back to Earth.

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

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.


Space scientists have just figured out that an unusual anomaly from over 20 years ago was the equivalent of a space probe being squirted in the face.

The results were in "satisfying agreement", Jia said.

"With the Hubble data in hand", Dr. Kivelson said, "we had an idea of how big a plume might be reasonable". "It's awesome how hard it is to anticipate something that just hasn't happened before", she said.

The moon, smaller than our own, is covered with a layer of cracked ice that covers a vast underground sea.

Looking at Europa's surface, you might not suspect that the planet could harbor life.

The Clipper mission - now in the preliminary design phase - is projected to arrive at Jupiter sometime around 2030.

Galileo came much closer during its 11 flybys of Europa. Instruments on the Europa Clipper will have to be sensitive enough to capture the particles from the water plume.

"But it's a long stretch to go from being able to measure the specific composition to being able to say, 'There's life, '" she cautioned at the news conference on Monday (Tuesday, NZT). The spacecraft will seek molecules associated with biological activity.

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