Water Plumes Identified on Jupiter's Moon Europa By Analyzing 20 Year Old Data

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Water Plumes Identified on Jupieter's Moon Europa By Analyzing 20 Year Old Data

⯀ New science, mined from the archives. Data from NASA Galileo orbiter launched a generation ago yields new evidence of plumes, eruptions of water vapor, from Jupiter's moon Europa.

Citing data collected by NASA's Galileo probe more than twenty years ago, scientists report that giant jets of water are spouting more than 100 miles off Jupiter's moon Europa. The study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, adds to the mounting evidence that Europa is spewing its contents into space.

In the study, data collected by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 were put through new and advanced computer models to untangle the mystery of a brief, localized bend in the  magnetic field that had gone unexplained until now.

"The data were there, but we needed sophisticated modeling to make sense of the observation."
Previous ultraviolet images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2012 suggested the presence of plumes, but this new analysis used data collected much closer to the source and is considered strong, corroborating support for plumes.

The research was led by Xianzhe Jia, a space physicist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and lead author of the journal article. Jia also is co-investigator for two instruments that will travel aboard Europa Clipper, NASA’s upcoming mission to explore the moon’s potential habitability.

“The data were there, but we needed sophisticated modeling to make sense of the observation,” Jia said.

jupiter moon water

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.

Rather than land on the surface and drill as much as 15 miles through ice - a feat that has never been achieved even on Earth - a spacecraft could simply fly through the spray and test its contents.

Researchers are already working on missions to do just that. NASA's Europa Clipper and the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) are slated to launch in the early to mid-2020s, both armed with high-resolution cameras and a suite of other sensitive instruments.

"The idea that Europa might possess plumes seems to be becoming more and more real, and that's very good news for future exploration," said Xianzhe Jia, a space physicist at the University of Michigan and the lead author of the new paper on the phenomenon.

The tallest of the plumes was so powerful that it extended 120 miles (193 km) above the moon's surface; Old Faithful, the famous geyser at Yellowstone, reaches 184 feet (56 metres).

The interpretation of those images has been debated; the images pushed the limits of Hubble's sensitivity, and sometimes the space telescope was unable to spot the plumes altogether.

The ongoing debate called for on-site observations, Jia said. But no spacecraft has gotten close to Europa since Galileo, which swooped 250 miles 400 km) above the moon's "hot spot" in December 1997.


By  33rd Square