Science

Water on Jupiter moon

Water on Jupiter moon

A new study detailing findings of plumes on Europa was published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, in conjunction with a NASA news conference at its headquarters in Washington. Not only do the plumes suggest that subsurface ocean likely exists, but it also means the Clipper, and any future mission, can just fly through the spewing mist for a sample, instead of hacking through the icy crust.

Margaret Kivelson was principle investigator of the magnetometer on Galileo. 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. At the time, though, scientists were skeptical, as the plumes were at the very limit of Hubble's ability to see. Observations of plumes were made by Hubble in 2012 and 2016.

"With the Hubble data in hand", Dr. Kivelson said, "we had an idea of how big a plume might be reasonable". This led the scientists to conclude that Hubble had indeed seen plumes on Europa, and Galileo must have flown near or through one. But the data didn't match that signature for this flyby. "The data was already there, but we needed advanced technology to make sense of the observations", Jia said in a statement.

Jia said, "One of the locations she mentioned rang a bell".

Jia used measurements from Galileo's magnetometer to seek out small perturbations in the magnetic field during the closest flyby. We realized we had to go back. "I'd love there to be plumes, but I think we should all retain a healthier skepticism here".

According to Jai, data studied here showed "compelling independent evidence that there seems to be a plume on Europa".

One of those times, in the year 1997, Galileo flew within 128 miles of Europa.

"It's wonderful how hard it is to anticipate something that just hasn't happened before", Kivelson said.

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How could Europa host life? There's water. There's energy. For example, NASA's Cassini spacecraft sampled plumes from Saturn's ocean-bearing moon Enceladus that contained hydrogen from hydrothermal vents, an environment that may have given rise to life on Earth.

Given the suspected abundance of warm, liquid water under its kilometres-thick ice shell, the moon is considered a "top candidate" by Nasa for life on a Solar System body other than Earth.

Europa orbits Jupiter every 3.5 days and is tidally locked - just like Earth's Moon - so that the same side of Europa faces Jupiter at all times.

Scientists searching for signs of extraterrestrial life have previously concentrated on Europa's hidden oceans.

The find has big implications for the Europa Clipper, a probe now under development by NASA and expected to launch in the early 2020s.

Checking for the presence of the water plumes on Europa, the Jupiter's icy moon, is, thus, of utmost significance and is getting closer to being a real thing because a U.S. science team managed to rebuild a 3D model of one of the plumes, basing themselves on the data collected by Galileo probe.

In May 2017, the SETI Institute's Melissa McGrath gave a presentation at one of the Europa Clipper science team meetings.

If a plume were erupting, Jia says, the erupted water vapour and dust particles would be affected by magnetic fields, which is what the spacecraft detected. Previous estimates had suggested the moon's crust might be tens if not hundreds of kilometers thick-too thick, that is, to allow direct exploration of its potentially life-friendly ocean anytime soon. The experiments showed Europa possesses an atmosphere. And the density of charged particles surrounding the spacecraft would change as the spacecraft entered, flew through, and then exited the plume. Researchers think the geyser material is coming from Enceladus' ocean, so flying through the moon's plume provides a possible way to search for signs of life on Enceladus without even touching down. "That's what the mission is after".


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