Published: Tue, May 15, 2018
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Geysers on Europa Found in 20 Year Old Space Probe Data

Geysers on Europa Found in 20 Year Old Space Probe Data

The probe did a decent job in collecting and transmitting data for the space agency, but just recently, another look at that data, with latest modeling techniques, has hinted that the spacecraft might have detected a plume of water vapor during its close flyby of Jupiter's icy moon Europa in 1997.

The Galileo data are consistent with earlier observations by the Hubble Space Telescope that captured signs of presumed plumes at the limits of detectability.

The lumes will offer a vital insight into the waters below the crust of Europa. 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.

The researchers found that, during this flyby, Galileo detected a significant change in Europa's magnetic field, as well as a brief but big increase in the density of plasma, or ionized gas.

Prof. Margaret Kivelson of the University of California and leader of the "Galileo magnetometer team", said that the substance that is oozing out from the surface of Europa is perhaps electrically neutral and is influenced by moisture.

"There were some unusual signatures in the magnetic field that we had never really been able to account for", Kivelson, who now works at the University of California, Los Angeles, said Monday on NASA TV.

Xianzhe Jia, a planetary scientist at the University of MI, heard astronomers suspected the plumes sat on the moon's equator, but couldn't get a good look at them with the Hubble Space Telescope, he told NPR. Xianzhe Jia, a University of MI space scientist, and his colleagues published their findings on May 14 in Nature Astronomy.

Not everyone is convinced.

"If we find active plumes, then we can sail on through them and sniff and taste that stuff that's in the plume", Bob Pappalardo, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who wasn't a study author, said on NASA TV. "I'd love there to be plumes, but I think we should all retain a healthier skepticism here". But many other attempted observations have turned up dry. Some astronomers were skeptical of the Hubble results, however.

Jupiter's icy moon Europa is slightly smaller than Earth's moon.

Images from a long-dead NASA spacecraft have revealed what may be water vapour plumes rising from the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, bolstering hopes it could harbour life.

Back in 1997 the Galileo Jupiter probe skimmed the watery moon of Europa and now it appears it got a facefull from a water plume 1,000km (621 miles) wide.

Scientists say that Europe is an important place for study because it can contain three ingredients that are necessary to support life: liquid water, chemical elements for the formation of the cells (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulphur) and energy. But determining habitability will be a major challenge. That's why NASA has already spent years planning the Europa Clipper to investigate the moon for liquid. It was the first convincing evidence of such eruptions from the ice world.

Europa orbits Jupiter every 3.5 days and is tidally locked - just like Earth's Moon - so that the same side of Europa faces Jupiter at all times.

The recent discovery is very good news for two upcoming, multi-billion-dollar missions to Jupiter and its moons.

"And one of the really exciting things about detection of a plume is that that means there may be ways that the material from the ocean - which is likely the most habitable part of Europa because it's warmer and it's protected from the radiation environment by the ice shell - to come out above the ice shell".

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