Best Evidence of water plume on Jupiter

Best Evidence of water plume on Jupiter

Best Evidence of water plume on Jupiter

Now, however, a new analysis of 21-year-old data from NASA's Galileo spacecraft, which orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003, has found strong independent evidence in favor of the plume.

Researchers believe that Europa contains a global salt water ocean under its crust.

Europa is slightly smaller than Earth's moon in terms of size, but researchers have theorized for years that the satellite could hold twice as much water as what's found on Earth.

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. This was also Galileo's closest approach to Europa, when it came to within 206km and flew near the Pwyll crater region. The orbiter had a close encounter with Europa in late 1997, and what at the time was thought to be a odd anomaly in its data is now believed to be evidence that Galileo actually flew through one of Europa's water plumes. But the discovery raises even more questions than it answers-and it may be a while before scientists can answer those questions, since they'll need to wait for a new spacecraft to reach the moon.

Based on what the scientists learned from exploring the water vapor plumes in Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, and after conducting several studies in three dimensions, they concluded that this type of superficial movement also occurs in Europa.

Using computer simulations, the research team determined that those observations were consistent with the presence of a water plume on Europa.

Research suggesting the possibility of an ocean on Europa was published as early as 1977, after the Voyager mission saw long lines and dark spots, as opposed to a cratered surface similar to other moons.

From its orbit of Jupiter, Europa Clipper will sail close by the moon in rapid, low-altitude flybys, it said.

Where the plumes are coming from addresses just one facet of how they work, and here again, scientists can figure out only so much from a distance.

One ardent supporter of a mission to Europa, Texas Congressman John Culberson, broke the embargo on this news last week during a Congressional hearing on NASA's budget.

The study, titled "Evidence of a plume on Europa from Galileo magnetic and plasma wave signatures", was published May 14 in the journal Nature Astronomy.

In addition, "to make sense of the observations, we had to really go for sophisticated numerical modeling" techniques, he told

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.

The necessary ingredients for life as we know it include liquid water, energy sources and chemicals such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus. Still, Xianzhe Jia, an associate professor at the University of MI, guessed that there may be clues lurking in the information that was beamed back. But he remarked that the specific reason why this plume-producing area of Europa seems to be warmer than other areas of the moon isn't well known.

"This mission would significantly advance our understanding of Europa as an ocean world, even in the absence of any definitive signs of life and would provide the foundation for the future robotic exploration of Europa". That's the big picture.

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