Galileo data reveals water plumes on Jupiter's moon Europa

Yes, Europa really is sending plumes of water into space

The Article from Best Evidence of water plume on Jupiter. Drawing on what scientists learned from exploring plumes on Saturn's moon Enceladus - that material in plumes becomes ionized and leaves a characteristic blip in the magnetic field - they knew what to look for.

To make sense of those measurements and ensure they were not merely due to background fluctuations produced by Jupiter itself, Jia and his team compared them with computer simulations of how a plume would affect the plasma and magnetic field around Europa along the path Galileo took.

On December 16th, 1997, the Galileo probe had crossed in full throttle above a probable water plume ejected from the entrails of Europa, the renowned icy moon of Jupiter, which is considered a possible source of life. Second, these plumes mean that a spacecraft could have easy access to Europa's water without having to drill through its ice crust.

Xianzhe Jia, a space physicist at the University of MI said, 'One of the locations she mentioned rang a bell.

"This one certainly stood out as very special", the study's lead author Xianzhe Jia said. Their size is likely limited by the moon's larger size and stronger gravity that plumes must fight.

Jia hopes this paper will inspire fellow researchers to keep looking at Europa's plumes.

The scientists also pinpointed the location of the plume on Europa's surface.

Scientists believe that Europa has a thick icy crust, beneath which lies a salt water global ocean. The final ingredient was the data from Hubble that suggested dimensions of potential plumes, NASA said.

Kivelson explained that the Plume's electrically charged particles bring about the magnetic field shifts and shift in the density of electrons within the environment, as estimated by the "plasma wave" equipment.

If the existence of the plumes is confirmed and they are linked to Europa's ocean, they could provide a tantalizingly straightforward way to sample the moon in search of signs of life.

While the Galileo mission never focused on water plumes shooting from Europa, Xianzhe Jia, the lead researcher behind the study from the University of MI, thought that maybe the data collected by Hubble corroborated with that collected by the orbiter and could provide evidence of water plumes erupting from the moon.

But the sensitivity of telescopic data is limited, and more was needed to be sure that these were really plumes, the researchers said.

The Europa Clipper mission backed by Culberson would do as many as 45 close fly-bys, with new, more powerful instruments to "sniff and taste the stuff in the plume...and get a detailed composition of Europa's interior", as one of the researchers on the recent study put it at a NASA event. So a team of USA astronomers went back and took a second look at data collected by the Galileo spacecraft during its eight-year stay in the Jovian system. That research led to the conclusion that Galileo may well have flown through a plume.

The result that emerged, with a simulated plume, was a match to the magnetic field and plasma signatures the team pulled from the Galileo data.

While the spacecraft isn't intended specifically to hunt for life, it's anticipated to supply a comprehensive evaluation of Europa to decide whether circumstances exist which prefer Earth-like life. During that time, the spacecraft made 11 flybys of Europa, including one in which it came to within a few hundred kilometers of the moon's surface. That's why NASA has already spent years planning the Europa Clipper to investigate the moon for liquid. That's the big picture.

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