Old data presents latest evidence of Europa plumes

Yes, Europa really is sending plumes of water into space

Yes, Europa really is sending plumes of water into space

This NASA-run Jupiter mission Galileo ran from the years 1995 until 2003, and collected loads of invaluable data on our most recognizable galactic cousin.

Data gathered by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in 1997, an old mission convey new experiences to the enticing inquiry of whether Jupiter's moon Europa has the ingredients for life.

The Europa Clipper mission backed by Culberson would do as many as 45 close fly-bys, with new, more powerful instruments to "sniff and taste the stuff in the plume...and get a detailed composition of Europa's interior", as one of the researchers on the recent study put it at a NASA event.

The space agency said in a statement: "Europa may hold the clues to one of NASA's long standing goals - to determine whether or not we are alone in the universe".

Schmidt will be an investigator for the ice-penetrating radar instrument that will be housed on the Europa Clipper.

"During Galileo, we'd always known there was something weird during this flyby", Cynthia Phillips, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was quoted as saying.

Jupiter's moon Europa, as photographed by NASA's Galileo spacecraft.

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"On one particular pass, the spacecraft came very, very close to the surface of Europa, and it was on that pass that we saw signatures that we never really understood", she said at a news conference Monday.

Through this analysis, they discovered disruptions of this magnetic Field occurring at Europa, suggesting that Galileo had flown through a plume of some type in 1997. Together with careful modeling of the moon's surrounding environment, those changes point to the presence of the plume and its location, not far from the putative source inferred from Hubble images. We can go back and look at that old data set anew.

"When we first saw those images, I think a lot of us in the community were very excited", says planetary scientists Xianzhe Jia from the University of MI. Unlike Galileo researchers in the 1990s, he and his colleagues performed a more focused investigation, looking for little changes here and there and finally finding one.

Jia's team then began to analyze the old data in earnest, feeding some of the old data into a new 3D computer model developed by his team at the University of MI. The information gives autonomous confirmation that the moon's subsurface fluid water repository might vent crest of water vapor over its cold shell. Over the past decade, scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have made observations that seemed to support the notion that Jupiter is venting some of this water to space, much like Saturn's moon Enceladus. The particles that are spread by the plumes will be found in the atmosphere of Europa.

"The highest-level science goal of the mission presented here is to search for evidence of life on Europa".

It's also possible-and perhaps more likely-that any plumes come from a lake or some other reservoir trapped in the ice. "If you have an exchange of those materials, that might provide the reactants needed for life". 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. Each spacecraft would reach the mysterious world less than three years after launch.

Earlier observations of Europa by NASA's Voyager probes revealed a chaotic cracked surface that could be explained by tidal stresses, imposed by Jupiter's gravity, if a layer of warmer ice or even liquid existed below the moon's frozen crust.

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