Europa is venting water into space, old spacecraft data suggest

Yes, Europa really is sending plumes of water into space

Yes, Europa really is sending plumes of water into space

New research on a sort-of old set of data points toward a water plume on Jupiter's moon Europa.

Ever since the Hubble Space Telescope detected Europa's plumes, scientists have been working under the assumption that the planned Europa Clipper spacecraft could collect more data on their contents.

That mission, now dubbed Europa Clipper, could be informed by research published online Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

One author of the study published this week was Xianzhe Jia, an associate professor in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of MI.

That news-confirmed observation of a plume of salt water, which suggests Europa's environment could allow microbial life to develop-is a major reason why he is so eager for NASA to return.

This ocean appears to be in contact with Europa's rocky core, making possible a variety of interesting and complex chemical reactions.

Europa is objectively one of the most badass moons in the solar system. "It's much more likely that any plumes would come from a water pocket or "lake" contained within the ice shell, closer to the surface", Phillips added. Scientists think that this spike in energy particles may have been the probe flying through a water plume. In late 2012, Hubble spotted signs of such a feature near the moon's south pole.

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"These results provide strong independent evidence of the presence of plumes at Europa", the study reads. If enough evidence of water plumes is found, NASA (and other space agencies, we must assume) will investigate further, maybe someday bringing back samples. Galileo flew by Europa a total of 11 times. They found their simulation matched closely with the data from Galileo, giving them confidence to confirm that these magnetic signatures were caused by water escaping Europa's ice shell.

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. For example, in the 2014 and 2016 candidate detections, the possible plumes blocked some ultraviolet light emitted by Jupiter.

The behavior of the plumes is also unpredictable.

That mission had a severe shortcoming: The spacecraft's more powerful antenna failed to deploy after launch, limiting the amount of data the spacecraft could send back to Earth.

In addition, "to make sense of the observations, we had to really go for sophisticated numerical modeling" techniques, he told Space.com. Although the data has been available for more than 20 years scientists were just able to see this now.

"The sudden, short-duration jump in the frequency of intense emissions can be interpreted as consistent with a highly localized source of plasma, thereby supporting the hypothesis that the magnetic perturbations arise from passage through a localized plume", write the authors of a new paper describing the findings in Nature Astronomy.

Even though the latest findings of water plumes on Europa are not at all unassailable, the researchers are optimistic that their model will help the upcoming missions to Europa, namely, the ESA's JUICE mission and the NASA's Europa Clipper, both of which are created to determine, once and for all, if the icy moon of Jupiter has the right conditions to house life. Subsequent studies revealed the building blocks of life were present in that world's subsurface ocean.

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