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

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The lawmaker was in the middle of expounding on an annual preoccupation: Putting more money into a robotic space-exploration project expected to cost $8 billion or more by the time it launches sometime after 2022.

Galileo recorded tons of data in the seven plus years it orbiting Jupiter.

But the probe never directly encountered any of that water - or so scientists thought at the time.

If Galileo already flew within the immediate vicinity of the jets without even trying, NASA could certainly achieve the same feat with a new probe created to specifically to sample the icy plumes in the hunt for microbial life or some other organic proof that something is alive in Europa's depths.

As Jia and his colleagues report in the journal, Nature Astronomy, the best explanation was the signals were indeed generated by plumes of water coming from Europa.

The implications could be enormous.

A fresh look at data from a 1997 flyby of Jupiter's moon, Europa, suggests that NASA's Galileo spacecraft flew directly through a watery plume, raising hopes of probing the jets for signs of life around the second planet from Earth. Finding plumes raises the possibility that the ocean tucked beneath its icy shell might erupt into outer space, which means that tasting that alien sea and searching it for signs of life could be as simple as sending a spacecraft zooming through a plume of ejected water vapour. Nutrients sprayed onto the ice by the nearby volcanic moon Io, the thinking goes, may sink down to the ocean floor and serve as food. Although slightly smaller than Earth's moon, Europa is estimated to hold twice as much water as our planet underneath its frozen surface.

Before ending its mission in 2003 with a planned crash into Jupiter's atmosphere, Galileo reported the first data suggestive of a liquid water ocean under Europa's surface. But until now, solid evidence has been hard to come by.

In 2017 the Hubble Space Telescope spotted plumes shooting from the moon.

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Today, NASA unveiled the salty plumes of Jupiter's moon Europa, but Texas Representative John Culberson beat them to it last week. They analyzed and modeled the data to explain this discrepancy. The magnetic field lines (depicted in blue) show how the plume interacts with the ambient flow of Jovian plasma.

The study, led by Xianzhe Jia, of the University of MI, seems to confirm an idea that had already arisen from observations of the Hubble Space Telescope taken in 2012.

"When he ran this simulation, it agreed just beautifully with the data that we had collected" in 1997, Kivelson said.

It's also possible-and perhaps more likely-that any plumes come from a lake or some other reservoir trapped in the ice.

'These results provide strong independent evidence of the presence of plumes at Europa, ' researchers wrote.

"Even with our wildest imagination, we always see stuff that we totally did not expect", McGrath says. For years Culberson has advocated for both Europa missions, ensuring they are present and accounted for in multiple budget bills.

Since then, Europa and, more recently, Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, where visible plumes of water vapor were detected and directly sampled by NASA's Cassini probe, have been considered prime targets in the search for habitable environments - and possibly life - across the solar system. From its orbit of Jupiter, Europa Clipper will sail close by the moon in rapid, low-altitude flybys, it said.

JPL manages the Europa Clipper mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

"We know that Europa has a lot of the ingredients necessary for life as we know it".