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Water plumes on Europa detected by Galileo spacecraft

Water plumes on Europa detected by Galileo spacecraft

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.

Europa's frozen surface has always been thought to cover a salty ocean about twice the size of our planet's, according to AFP. So, many astrobiologists regard Europa as one of the solar system's best bets to host alien life, along with the icy Saturn moon Enceladus, which also features a subsurface ocean.

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

"These results provide strong independent evidence of the presence of plumes at Europa", he concluded in a paper published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy. There it will perform 45 flybys past Europa, getting as close as 16 miles above the moon's surface. But it is only recently, more than 20 years after, when the researchers realized it, by restudying the data recorded by Galileo.

Even crazier? We've had the data proving that the plumes exist since 1997.

For the new study, experts measured variations in the moon's magnetic field and plasma waves as measured during Galileo's close flyby, and found they were "consistent" with the spacecraft crossing a plume. 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. Between 1995 and 2003, the nuclear-powered orbiter trained a suite of sophisticated instruments on Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere and its many moons, focusing on the four large Galilean satellites - volcanic Io and the icy worlds Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. And it's fitting that the latest surprise has been found hidden in 21-year-old data from NASA's Galileo mission to Jupiter in 1997.

But we've also learned that life finds a way in the harshest of Earth's environments, like vents in the deepest parts of the ocean floor.

This ocean appears to be in contact with Europa's rocky core, making possible a variety of interesting and complex chemical reactions. Since the ice sheet covering Europa is thought to be at least several kilometers thick, being able to sample the ocean from space or the moon's surface would greatly aid this search.

Kivelson, who hadn't considered such a plume when she collected the data two decades ago, marveled at the new discovery.

"Given the evidence of plumes available so far, there is a good chance that those spacecraft may obtain direct measurements of plumes ejecting material from the subsurface ocean into space", said Jia.

These findings will inform and draw more interest in NASA's Europa Clipper and the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) missions, planned to launch in the mid-2020s and in 2022, respectively.

Kivelson has been studying Jupiter and its moons for a long time.

Since Galileo's end, the Hubble Space Telescope has periodically observed the Jovian system.

The conditions could serve as a stand-in to investigating alien life, scientists say.

It will act like an X-ray, peering through the unknown thickness of Europa's icy crust the same way scientists use earthquakes to assess the interior of the Earth. "I made certain that the Europa orbiter and lander are the only missions it's illegal for NASA not to fly", says Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), member of the House Appropriations Committee and former chair of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over NASA.

The Clipper also will look for evidence of recent water eruptions and search for tell-tale atoms and molecules in the moon's thin atmosphere that might be left over from past or ongoing geysers.

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