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Life on Jupiter's moon? Europa's plumes suggest so
15 May 2018, 11:04 | Ross Houston
ImageNASA’s Galileo spacecraft appears to have flown through a plume erupting from Jupiter’s moon Europa more than 20 years
So the team reanalysed Galileo's magnetic data with modern computers and techniques, including a simulation by Zianzhe Jia, a space scientist at the University of MI, of what a plume would do to Galileo'sinstruments.
Checking for the presence of the water plumes on Europa, the Jupiter's icy moon, is, thus, of utmost significance and is getting closer to being a real thing because a United States science team managed to rebuild a 3D model of one of the plumes, basing themselves on the data collected by Galileo probe.
Scientists have new evidence that there are plumes of water erupting from the surface of Jupiter's icy moon Europa - plumes that could, maybe, possibly contain signs of life.
The research, headed by University of MI space physicist Xianzhe Jia, was published in the journal Nature Astronomy. Then the Galileo mission reached Europa in 1996, and Kivelson's detections revealed that there was an ocean on another planet.
Scientists have long believed Europa to be covered in a thick layer of ice. Gravity measurements will also help confirm the existence of Europa's subsurface ocean.A thermal instrument will survey Europa's frozen surface in search of recent eruptions of warmer water at or near the surface, while additional instruments will search for evidence of water and tiny particles in the moon's thin atmosphere. For example, NASA's Cassini spacecraft sampled plumes from Saturn's ocean-bearing moon Enceladus that contained hydrogen from hydrothermal vents, an environment that may have given rise to life on Earth.
Nasa scientists are on the verge of exploring Jupiter's ocean moon Europa for signs of alien life.
Their discovery not only suggests Europa's watery plumes really do exist, but are also frequent and widespread. Sure enough, data from Galileo's high-resolution magnetometer showed exactly that signature, which scientists hadn't been able to interpret before now. Because they were initially seen when Europa was farthest from Jupiter, researchers thought they might be driven by tidal stress - the friction generated by Jupiter's gravitational pull that keeps Europa's interior liquid. 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.
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They found that during Galileo's closest flyby of Europa, it detected a major shift in the moon's magnetic field and a substantial increase in plasma density.
"These results provide strong independent evidence of the presence of plumes at Europa", they wrote. The 1997 candidate for a water plume was reported to appear in the same general hotspot as previously reported possible plumes - those that occurred in 2014 and 2016.
Jia was inspired by the Hubble detections to look back at the Galileo flyby data.
Jia hopes this paper will inspire fellow researchers to keep looking at Europa's plumes. "And I don't think those were available back 20 years ago". NASA will be conducting a live discussion about the new study today, May 14th at 1 PM EDT. Jia also is co-investigator for two instruments that will travel aboard Europa Clipper, NASA's upcoming mission to explore the moon's potential habitability.
For more than two decades, scientists have been convinced Europa has a liquid water ocean sloshing around beneath its icy outer crust. Ephemeral plumes could make it tough to plan sample-snagging flybys. The results were in "satisfying agreement", Jia said. Two years later, researchers spotted another suspected plume in the same 200-mile-wide hot spot, reaching nearly 120 miles into space.
Such activity may be caused by different individual jets or geysers turning on and off over time, he added.
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