Jupiter's moon Europa has enough ingredients to sustain life

Yes, Europa really is sending plumes of water into space

Now that we have this unearthed Galileo data, scientists can better plot the trajectory of the spacecraft to ensure we gather more data on these plumes, and Europa's subsurface ocean as a result.

At the time the blip in the data was unexplained but it is now believed it was a water plume.

Europa water plumes are more strongly suspected after scientists presented further evidence Monday for them, raising hopes of probing the jets on Jupiter's moon for signs of life around the second planet from Earth. If it's confirmed, the finding could help immensely in the search for other forms of life in our solar system. Jia layered the magnetometry and plasma wave signatures into new 3D modeling developed by his team at the University of MI, which simulated the interactions of plasma with solar system bodies. Xianzhe Jia, a University of MI space scientist, and his colleagues published their findings on May 14 in Nature Astronomy. Instruments on the Europa Clipper will have to be sensitive enough to capture the particles from the water plume.

"During Galileo, we'd always known there was something weird during this flyby", Cynthia Phillips, a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, was quoted as saying. But in 2008 NASA's Cassini spacecraft swing by the Saturnian moon of Enceladus and intentionally flew through one of the plumes of matter than the body periodically emits to examine what it contained. And there it was on Europa - a brief, localized bend in the magnetic field that had never been explained.

Jia was inspired by the Hubble detections to look back at the Galileo flyby data.

"This one certainly stood out as very special", the study's lead author Xianzhe Jia said.

It was in that closest flyby that information was sought and studied. Unlike Galileo researchers in the 1990s, he and his colleagues performed a more focused investigation, looking for little changes here and there and finally finding one. They found that a sudden blast of water from the Jovian moon explained the Galileo probe's odd measurements. But as powerful as Hubble is, seeing something as small as a plume on a moon more than 380-million miles away is hard. Finally, those charged particles would interact with the surrounding magnetic field, generating fluctuations detectable by Galileo. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope observed water vapor above the south polar region of Europa in 2012, providing potential evidence of water plumes. The particles that are spread by the plumes will be found in the atmosphere of Europa.

Galileo came much closer during its 11 flybys of Europa. Plumes from the surface means that the ice is warm.

To study the plumes, the probe will not need to pass directly through them. "You have to grab the ice grains that are there and see what's inside Europa", Cable says. NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft, now scheduled to launch in 2022, is created to fly closer than we've ever gotten to the Jovian moon. Each spacecraft would reach the mysterious world less than three years after launch.

But the environment around the moon is complex - warped by Jupiter's strong magnetic fields and by Europa's atmosphere.

"This result makes the plumes seem to be much more real and, for me, is a tipping point".

According to at least one high-powered congressman, the lander's approval is already inevitable. The craft will use ice-penetrating radar to peer under Europa's shell and will make 45 flybys of the moon, getting as close as 16 miles.

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