Jupiter's icy Moon Europa Shoots Water Plumes Into Space

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That's particularly exciting because it also suggests that Europa may have an energy source propelling the water skyward. The new study, coupled with 2012 Hubble pictures, is regarded as "powerful and corroborating service for plumes", NASA said.

Xianzhe Jia, a space physicist at the University of MI said, 'One of the locations she mentioned rang a bell. The geological, compositional and induced magnetic field measurements of Europa show that a salty ocean full of water in its liquid form, situated at about 100 kilometers below the icy surface, is now sprinkling under the moon's frozen crust. And NASA is working on a mission that could do just that.

Europa's ocean resides under an estimated ice layer 15 to 25 kilometres thick, with an estimated depth of 60 to 150 kilometres.

NASA is planning a mission to Europa, one of 53 confirmed moons of Jupiter, which could launch by 2024.

Scientists have previously identified Europa as a prime target in the search for extraterrestrial life, suggesting the moon's ocean could host communities of microbes.

Galileo Galilei discovered Europa in 1610, and the moon has been keenly observed by humanity ever since - including by the NASA space probe named after him. That's because project team members couldn't conclusively rule out other possible explanations, such as instrument artifacts. Galileo flew by Europa a total of 11 times.

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Furthermore, the new analysis reveals that the Galileo probe may have actually passed through the giant water plume in 1997, when the spacecraft came as close as 124 miles (200 km) from Europa's surface. Scientists detected a brief, localised bend in the magnetic field that had never been explained. And these lines of evidence are independent of those gathered by Hubble. Jia's team pulled that data as well, and it also appeared to back the theory of a plume.

Odd readings detected by the spacecraft's magnetometer and an instrument that detects charged particles (a Plasma Wave Spectrometer) on that day nearly 21 years ago were set aside as something that simply was not understood according to Margaret Kivelson, a space physicist at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

"Using the probe we can detect particles, use the mass spectrometer to tell what the atmosphere is made of and sample its very tenuous atmosphere", Elizabeth Turtle, research scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory said in a press conference on Monday. Although the data has been available for more than 20 years scientists were just able to see this now.

The study, titled "Evidence of a plume on Europa from Galileo magnetic and plasma wave signatures", was published May 14 in the journal Nature Astronomy. The agency is developing a $2 billion Jupiter-orbiting mission called Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in the early to mid-2020s. The spacecraft will make repeated flybys of Jupiter and more than 40 close passes by Europa at altitudes as low as 16 miles.

"If plumes exist, and we can directly sample what's coming from the interior of Europa, then we can more easily get at whether Europa has the ingredients for life", Pappalardo continues. What they found is that magnetometer readings and radio signals also showed anomalies when the craft flew over the area of the purported plumes determined by Hubble.

Still, 45 flybys should make the odds quite high.

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