Jupiter's Moon Europa Shoots Water Into Space, New Research Suggests

Jupiter's moon Europa harbors a saltwater ocean beneath an icy crust

The proofs of the existence of water plumes on Europa, which are emerging from the surface of the moon, have been gathering for a number of years.

But it wasn't until previous 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 chose to revisit the Galileo data.

Inspired by the Hubble images and discussions of planned missions to revisit Europa, Jia and his team dusted off the data from two instruments onboard Galileo, gathered during the spacecraft's 11 close passes around the moon. Xianzhe Jia, the lead author of the study, told Mashable, "This is potentially great news for future exploration of Europa, because spacecraft may have a chance to directly sample materials that are linked to the subsurface ocean". She's looking forward to NASA's next mission to the giant planet.

To determine whether Europa is indeed life-friendly and to look for possible evidence of those organisms themselves, scientists want spacecraft much more powerful than Galileo to return to the moon.

It is thought to have an iron core, a rocky mantle and a surface ocean of salty water, like Earth. That's because water is thought to be one of the necessities for life, because, let's be real, finding life on other planets is pretty much the whole reason humans are so fascinated by space in the first place.

Near Enceladus' south pole, more than 100 individual geysers continuously blast water ice, organic molecules and other material far out into space - so far that this plume stuff forms Saturn's E ring. One version of the model included plumes on the surface of Europa, whereas another did not. "They're like a battery, combining both positive and negative to make an energy source", says Alison Murray, a biologist at the Desert Research Institute who studies organisms in extreme environments but did not take part in the research.

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According to Jai, data studied here showed "compelling independent evidence that there seems to be a plume on Europa". The model simulations that included plumes from Europa closely matched the Galileo data, but the model without them did not.

For the new study, experts measured variations in the moon's magnetic field and plasma waves, based on data obtained during Galileo's close flyby, and found they were "consistent" with the spacecraft crossing a plume. 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.

Kivelson, who hadn't considered such a plume when she collected the data two decades ago, marvelled at the new discovery. Although the data has been available for more than 20 years scientists were just able to see this now. Over the course of 5 minutes, spikes the spacecraft recorded with its magnetic and plasma sensors reflected the alterations that a veil of ejected water, from one or many vents, could cause in a region matching the telescope observations, they report today in Nature Astronomy.

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.

Europa is our best shot of finding biological life in the solar system, researchers say.

At the time the blip in the data was unexplained but it is now believed it was a water plume. Ephemeral plumes could make it tough to plan sample-snagging flybys.

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