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

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

It's a hugely exciting finding, not just because it's only the second known example of a natural waterpark in space. Rather than land on the surface and drill as much as 15 miles through ice - a feat that has never been achieved even on Earth - a spacecraft could simply fly through the spray and test its contents.

Now, with two spacecraft and several independent instruments reporting similar findings, it's harder to deny that Europa is venting water vapour into space.

Three questions in particular stand out: Where do the plumes really come from? A member of the Europa Clipper science team, McGrath delivered a presentation to fellow team scientists, highlighting other Hubble observations of Europa. In fact, according to NASA, if the plumes are indeed spewing from the moon, the orbiter might sample frozen liquid as well as dust particles.

Europa is one of the most talked-about bodies in the Solar System, not only because it was so integral to Arthur C Clarke's classic 2001 series, and the new data is already being put into action.

Then in 2012 the Hubble Space Telescope spotted what looked like plumes of material being ejected from Europa's southern polar region.

Kivelson explained that the Plume's electrically charged particles bring about the magnetic field shifts and shift in the density of electrons within the environment, as estimated by the "plasma wave" equipment.

But if you give a scientist a new planetary feature, they're going to ask how it works.

An image created from Hubble Space Telescope data shows hints of water plumes rising from Europa. Back in 1997, it's nearly as if researchers didn't know to look for plumes of this sort - or simply did not expect such things. They know that the plumes are shorter than those on Enceladus.

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This literal "hotspot" where the plumes happen shows the warmest temperatures on the planet that is otherwise minus 279 degrees Fahrenheit. SLS can send the probes directly to Jupiter instead of requiring gravity-assists from other planets, significantly shortening the trip time. That requires further study and thanks to Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), chairman of the Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, NASA is building a spacecraft to do just that - Europa Clipper.

One of the biggest mysteries that has baffled scientists and astronomers for years is signs for life beyond Earth.

"We know that Europa has a lot of the ingredients necessary for life as we know it".

The Clipper also will look for evidence of recent water eruptions and search for tell-tale atoms and molecules in the moon's thin atmosphere that might be left over from past or ongoing geysers. Europa is regularly hit by meteorites that could deliver compounds, and the moon is surrounded by deadly radiation that might kill off anything trying to get by. The hope was that these flybys contained data about these plumes that scientists hadn't yet discovered.

The presence of the plume means the moon is geologically active, which is promising for the possibility of alien life in the sunless sea. That's in contrast to Enceladus, where a spacecraft was still in the neighborhood and able to gather more information when the moon's plumes were first detected. During that time, the spacecraft made 11 flybys of Europa, including one in which it came to within a few hundred kilometers of the moon's surface.

However, we will have to wait a little longer before we get the confirmation on the water plume on Europa as the NASA's Europa Clipper and the ESA's JUICE will approach the icy moon of Jupiter sometime between late 2020 and early 2030.

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.

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