Published: Tue, May 15, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

Jupiter moon Europa a prime candidate for life

Jupiter moon Europa a prime candidate for life

As it hurtled past, instruments onboard the probe detected a brief but dramatic twist in the magnetic field and a sudden, rapid increase in the density of plasma, or ionised gas, the spacecraft was flying through.

Xianzhe Jia is the first author on Monday's paper and a planetary scientist at the University of MI; he's also working on instruments that will fly on both Clipper and JUICE.

"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", Pappalardo continues.

Now, researchers report in a new study that NASA's Galileo Jupiter probe, which orbited the planet from 1995 to 2003, also detected a likely Europa plume, during a close flyby of the icy moon in 1997.

Back in 2014, the Hubble Space Telescope captured something astonishing on Europa, one of Jupiter's biggest moons: a massive geyser-like plume that appeared to spurt from the moon's icy crust. The information collected by the spacecraft during its orbit around the Jupiter brought to light that it could have flown through an atmosphere with a plume of moisture gushing out from the cracks formed on Europa's surface.

Life as it is known on Earth requires energy, organic compounds and liquid water, and all three may be present below the surface of Europa. The truth is truly ~out there.~.

Jia used measurements from Galileo's magnetometer to seek out small perturbations in the magnetic field during the closest flyby. There was a fair amount of suspicion of plumes from Europa's surface, but there was no hard evidence to back it up. 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. This was the second time a plume has been observed in this exact spot, which had researchers excited that it could prove to be a feature on the surface.

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Scientists aren't sure yet how many plumes there are, or how they are spread over Europa's surface, although the one identified Monday is near the moon's equator.

But it wasn't until past year, at a conference for boffins planning the Europa Clipper spacecraft that's due to head out to the mysterious moon in 2022, that Xianzhe Jia, a space physicist at the University of MI put the pieces together and made a decision to revisit the Galileo data. Of those places, Jupiter's moon Europa is perhaps the most promising, and the planet's warm ocean is incredibly tantalizing to researchers.

A new study reveals evidence that Jupiter's icy moon Europa is sending plumes of water into space.

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.

"The data were there, but we needed sophisticated modeling to make sense of the observation", Jia said of the findings.

Today, NASA unveiled the salty plumes of Jupiter's moon Europa, but Texas Representative John Culberson beat them to it last week. One version of the model included plumes on the surface of Europa, whereas another did not.

This finding, in fact, is good news for the Europa Clipper project, which will fly near that moon at low latitudes. NASA's Europa Clipper, scheduled to launch between 2022 and 2025, will execute a few dozen Europa flybys.

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