Published: Tue, May 15, 2018
Sci-tech | By Spencer Schmidt

Plumes of ocean spray are emanating from Jupiter's moon Europa

Plumes of ocean spray are emanating from Jupiter's moon Europa

Data gathered by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in 1997, an old mission convey new experiences to the enticing inquiry of whether Jupiter's moon Europa has the ingredients for life. But as powerful as Hubble is, seeing something as small as a plume on a moon more than 380-million miles away is hard.

Europa is considered among the prime candidates for life in our solar system, but is not the only one.

Now that these plumes have been confirmed, they are regarded to be of great help to the researchers for further studies about the subsurface water body of the Jupiter moon.

In 2012, NASA experts have obtained ultraviolet images taken with the Hubble space telescope, which showed plumes of water from the surface of Europa.

"On one particular pass, the spacecraft came very, very close to the surface of Europa, and it was on that pass that we saw signatures that we never really understood", she said at a news conference Monday.

Officially, the researchers-Xianzhe Jia, Margaret Kivelson, Krishan Khurana, and William Kurth-report that instruments onboard the Galileo space probe detected intense, localized changes in the magnetic fields and plasma density of Europa's atmosphere as the probe flew 400 km above the surface of the moon. They found their simulation matched closely with the data from Galileo, giving them confidence to confirm that these magnetic signatures were caused by water escaping Europa's ice shell.

The case for a giant plume of water vapor wafting from Jupiter's potentially life-supporting moon Europa just got a lot stronger.

For the new study, experts measured variations in the moon's magnetic field and plasma waves as measured during Galileo's close flyby, and found they were "consistent" with the spacecraft crossing a plume.

"There now seem to be too many lines of evidence to dismiss plumes at Europa", Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, points out in a statement. According to Jai, data studied here showed "compelling independent evidence that there seems to be a plume on Europa". But that still means an orbiting spacecraft, like the Europa Clipper mission that's tentatively scheduled to launch in the early 2020s, could sample a plume and get a glimpse of what lies beneath the moon's ruddy, crisscrossed rind. "Much of what they talk about on Europa has all been speculation", Porco said. "I made certain that the Europa orbiter and lander are the only missions it's illegal for NASA not to fly", says Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), member of the House Appropriations Committee and former chair of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over NASA. Two years later, researchers spotted another suspected plume in the same 200-mile-wide hot spot, reaching nearly 120 miles into space. Xianzhe Jia, a University of MI space scientist, and his colleagues published their findings on May 14 in Nature Astronomy. Scientists think that this spike in energy particles may have been the probe flying through a water plume.

It's also possible-and perhaps more likely-that any plumes come from a lake or some other reservoir trapped in the ice.

In 2017 the Hubble Space Telescope spotted plumes shooting from the moon.

Scientists today will discuss the latest findings from studying Europa, one of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter.

That's when the University of Michigan's Xianzhe Jia and colleagues made a decision to revisit those archival data and see what kinds of nuggets they could find. That's the big picture.

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