Jupiter's Moon Europa Shoots Water Into Space, New Research Suggests
Jupiter's Moon Europa Shoots Water Into Space, New Research Suggests
Jupiter's moon Europa harbors a saltwater ocean beneath an icy crust
15 May, 2018, 05:06
These changes, the scientists believe, are consistent with images of the moon taken by the Hubble space telescopethought to show water ejecting from Europa's surface. If enough evidence of water plumes is found, NASA (and other space agencies, we must assume) will investigate further, maybe someday bringing back samples.
"With the Hubble data in hand", Dr. Kivelson said, "we had an idea of how big a plume might be reasonable".
This is exciting news for astrobiologists: If the plume is indeed real, it could offer a way for a spacecraft to sample Europa's buried ocean of liquid water without even touching down on the moon. She's looking forward to NASA's next mission to the giant planet.
This ocean appears to be in contact with Europa's rocky core, making possible a variety of interesting and complex chemical reactions. The solar system's ocean worlds might be the most promising place to look.
Jupiter'sicy moon Europa is slightly smaller than Earth's moon. So Jia, Kivelson and their colleagues ran the data through a sophisticated modelling program that compared the observations with what scientists might expect to see from a plume of the dimensions reported by Hubble.
When plumes of water spray out of Europa, the molecules are immediately battered by highly energetic particles, a process that smashes them into charged ions. For more, check NASA's news release.
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.
So scientists instead returned to Galileo, which on 16 December 1997 made its closest approach to Europa, flying only 400 kilometers above its surface.
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The study shows that the spacecraft's instrument detected two critical phenomena in this area: a significant change in Europa's magnetic field and a surge of ionized gas hinting at a large increase in density of the moon's plasma. For example, in the 2014 and 2016 candidate detections, the possible plumes blocked some ultraviolet light emitted by Jupiter.
A view of Jupiter's moon Europa created from images taken by the Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s.
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If all goes according to plan, Clipper will make 40 to 45 flybys of Europa over the course of its mission, studying the moon's ice shell and subsurface ocean in an attempt to better understand Europa's potential to host life as we know it. Europa Clipper will also scout out locations for a future lander mission, which Congress has directed the space agency to develop as well.
"Observations of plumes may tell us a lot about whether or not Europa's ocean has the ingredients suitable for life". Both are planned to fly close to the moon, using more sensitive instruments such as high-resolution cameras, spectrometers and ice-penetrating radar that could study organic materials on the surface, the thickness of the ice shell and the salinity of the vast ocean beneath.
The results were in "satisfying agreement", Jia said. One of those times, in the year 1997, Galileo flew within 128 miles of Europa.
Such activity may be caused by different individual jets or geysers turning on and off over time, he added.
"To detect a plume for certain, we'll have to return to the Jupiter system, and NASA'sEuropa Clipper spacecraft, now in development, will do just that", Cynthia Phillips, a NASA researcher told Mashable.
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