Nasa's Galileo spacecraft points to new evidence of watery plumes over Europa
15 May, 2018, 22:22 | Author: Sam Montgomery
Sometimes, when the telescope has looked, it has observed water vapor emissions coming from the surface of Europa. Of those places, Jupiter's moon Europa is perhaps the most promising, and the planet's warm ocean is incredibly tantalizing to researchers.
According to a study released previous year, the Hubble Space Telescope showed a water plume erupting on the warmest part of the surface of Europa, whose ocean contains twice as much water as Earth's seas. Instead, these groundbreaking finds came from a flyby done by the now-retired Galileo Jupiter probe. The orbiter had a close encounter with Europa in late 1997, and what at the time was thought to be a unusual anomaly in its data is now believed to be evidence that Galileo actually flew through one of Europa's water plumes. That was close enough to capture data about any geysers the moon might host, which in turn would give scientists a clue about the habitability of the ocean beneath the ice.
Almost 15 years have passed since NASA sent its Galileo spacecraft flying into Jupiter's outer atmosphere to die-eliminating the possibility of contaminating nearby Jovian moons with any traces of Earth bacteria.
A Nasa probe that explored Jupiter's moon Europa flew through a giant plume of water vapour that erupted from the icy surface and reached a hundred miles high, according to a fresh analysis of the spacecraft's data. Mike Brown, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology, said in a tweet he is a "big Europa fan", but "so far, all of the evidence for plumes on Europa has been hopeful, rather than truly convincing". No other flybys picked up evidence of these eruptions, though this particular one was the closest that the spacecraft came to Europa's surface.
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. One version of the model included plumes on the surface of Europa, whereas another did not.
No definitive reason behind the chat has been revealed, other than to discuss the continued intrigue behind Europa harboring some form of alien life.
That said, the discovery could also play a critical part in supporting NASA's Europa Clipper mission which will explore the possibility of life on the icy moon.
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"These results provide strong independent evidence of the presence of plumes at Europa", he concluded in a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.
The researchers initially suspected Europa's surface to be releasing water by seeing the images received with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope.
As to if this finding strengthened the situation for possible life On Europa, not one of the scientists around the discussion would say that right.
The revelation has again emphasised the scientific consensus that Europa, which has a salty ocean twice the size of Earth's, could be home to extraterrestrial life.
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.
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