Europa's plumes make Jupiter moon a prime candidate for life


The geological, compositional and induced magnetic field measurements of Europa show that a salty ocean full of water in its liquid form, situated at about 100 kilometers below the icy surface, is now sprinkling under the moon's frozen crust.

Given the suspected abundance of warm, liquid water under its thick ice shell, the moon is considered a "top candidate" by NASA for life on a solar system body other than Earth.

Twice before has Nasa reported evidence, from its Hubble Space Telescope, for the existence of water plumes on Europa, though this interpretation has caused much debate.

The newly analyzed Galileo data provides "compelling independent evidence that there seems to be a plume on Europa", said study lead author Xianzhe Jia, an associate professor in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of MI.

At the time the blip in the data was unexplained but it is now believed it was a water plume.

The revelations Monday came after scientists revisited a puzzling reading from an instrument aboard Galileo, which in 1995 became the first spacecraft to enter the orbit of a gas giant planet.

If such geysers are common on Europa, Nasa and European Space Agency (Esa) missions that are already in the pipeline could fly through and look for signs of life in the brine, which comes from a vast subsurface ocean containing twice as much water as all the oceans on Earth. When Jia and his team sifted through the observations of plasma and magnetic wave fluctuations Galileo picked up on Europa, Jia and his team were able to confirm that, yes, the geysers did, in fact, exist. Now, a new study in Nature Astronomy not only proves they were right, but also confirms that it does something more awesome than they could have imagined: it shoots up out of the crust in big, lovely plumes.

Another set of observations, taken in 2014 and 2016, found a recurring jet shooting from an unusually warm "hot spot" near the moon's equator.

A mission called Europa Clipper was proposed several years ago.

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This ocean appears to be in contact with Europa's rocky core, making possible a variety of interesting and complex chemical reactions. The finding also bolsters hypotheses that posit parts of Europa's crust are far thinner and more fractured than previously believed-conditions that may allow life-sustaining energy as well as exploratory robots easier entry into the moon's lightless abyss.

"Observations of plumes may tell us a lot about whether or not Europa's ocean has the ingredients suitable for life".

Kivelson has been studying Jupiter and its moons for a long time.

Europa is objectively one of the most badass moons in the solar system.

"On one particular pass by Europa, the spacecraft came very, very close to the surface - as I remember less than 150 kilometers (93 miles) above the surface - and it was on that pass that we saw signatures that we never really understood", said Margaret Kivelson, professor emerita of space physics at the University of California, Los Angeles, on NASA TV.

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

In 1997, the Galileo spacecraft buzzed Europa, coming within 250 miles of its icy surface. If NASA (and the rest of us who care about the search for alien life) get lucky, those jets may be on when the Europa Clipper reaches its destination and starts its science work.

Scanning the Canadian lakes for signs of basic microbial life could help scientists in the upcoming Clipper mission which will look for alien life on Europa.