Decades-old data helps confirm Europa is geysering water into space

Decades-old data helps confirm Europa is geysering water into space

Decades-old data helps confirm Europa is geysering water into space

If there's water along with energy necessary for the plumes to erupt, then life could be possible in this Jupiter moon.

NASA found more evidence of water plumes in Jupiter's moon Europa by poring over 20-year-old data from the Galileo probe in the 1990s.

Even crazier? We've had the data proving that the plumes exist since 1997.

It's based on research by the University of MI that re-examined data when the Galileo space craft flew over Europa in 1997.

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. And there it was on Europa - a brief, localized bend in the magnetic field that had never been explained.

"The material that is coming out from Europa is probably electrically neutral, it's probably dominated by water vapor", said Margaret Kivelson, professor emerita of Space Physics at the University of California who led the Galileo magnetometer team. The particles that are spread by the plumes will be found in the atmosphere of Europa.

Kivelson and Xianzhe Jia, associate professor in the department of climate and space sciences and engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, made a decision to take a second look at those signatures.

In a paper in the journal Nature Astronomy Jia describes how his team build custom 3D modelling code to work out a plume's density and properties, adding in the magnetic data from the Enceladus plume probe.

Not everyone is convinced. But many other attempted observations have turned up dry.

Launched in 1989, Galileo became the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter six years later.

Galileo went offline in 2003 when it plunged into the atmosphere of Jupiter and was vaporized.

One ardent supporter of a mission to Europa, Texas Congressman John Culberson, broke the embargo on this news last week during a Congressional hearing on NASA's budget.

Ever since 2012, when astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope first spied inconclusive hints of watery plumes emanating from the subsurface ocean of Jupiter's large, icy moon Europa, space scientists have fiercely debated the claim.

Scientists state Europa is a significant exploration destination since it may comprise the 3 components understood to be needed for life: liquid water; chemistry essential for life, such as hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, potassium, phosphorous, and sulfur; and vitality. But determining habitability will be a major challenge.

Europa is set to be explored by two different spacecraft in the next decade. They believed these fluctuations might be due to perturbations from a water plume in the plasma surrounding the Moon. Another mission, Esa's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or Juice, is expected to launch around the same time and perform flybys of Europa and two other Jovian moons, Ganymede and Callisto.

Nonetheless, it made sense that Europa had plumes, since the Cassini spacecraft had definitely seen water plumes from Enceladus, an icy moon orbiting Saturn that's similar to Europa. The plumes of water vapor likely originate from this ocean. The problem is, landing a spacecraft on Europa and drilling through the mile or more of ice on its surface is an expensive and technologically challenging feat. 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. "That's what the mission is after".

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