Moon of Jupiter prime candidate for alien life after water blast found

Moon of Jupiter prime candidate for alien life after water blast found

The 20-year-old data supports the findings of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, which uncovered clues of possible water plumes in the same "hotspot" on Europa during its observations of Jupiter's moon in 2014 and 2016.

Given the suspected abundance of warm, liquid water under its thick ice shell, the moon is considered a "top candidate" by NASA for life on a solar system body other than Earth.

The image at the head of this article is an artist's interpretation of what a plume of water vapor might look like blasting from Europa's surface.

The hidden waters of Europa have become a major goal in the search for extraterrestrial life, and sending a spacecraft to take a sample of that type of geyser could be the "most practical" way to verify it, the scientists said.

"On one particular pass by Europa, the spacecraft came very, very close to the surface - as I remember less than 150 kilometres above the surface - and it was on that pass that we saw signatures that we never really understood", said Margaret Kivelson, professor emerita of space physics at the University of California, Los Angeles, on NASA TV.

The Galileo data are consistent with earlier observations by the Hubble Space Telescope that captured signs of presumed plumes at the limits of detectability.

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

In those years, the Galileo spacecraft made eleven flybys of Europa, including one which brought it within a few hundred kilometers of the moon's surface. 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.

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That's when the University of Michigan's Xianzhe Jia and colleagues made a decision to revisit those archival data and see what kinds of nuggets they could find.

The study shows that the spacecraft's instrument detected two critical phenomena in this area: a significant change in Europa's magnetic field and a surge of ionized gas hinting at a large increase in density of the moon's plasma. The simulated results displayed how the magnetic field interacted with a plume erupting from Europa and backed the observations noted in the Galileo data.

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. The final ingredient was the data from Hubble that suggested dimensions of potential plumes. "The ocean of Europa is venting into outer space". The readings were spot on for what would be expected if Galileo had flown through a salty plume.

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

Whereas Galileo didn't know that it was flying through a plume and was incapable of collecting material from the plume, Europa Clipper will be able to gather material from plumes if it can fly through them.

'If there is microbial life in these lakes, it has likely been under the ice for at least 120,000 years, so it likely evolved in isolation, ' said Anja Rutishauser, a PhD student at the University of Alberta who led the research.

"Even with our wildest imagination, we always see stuff that we totally did not expect", McGrath says. The mission will send a highly capable, radiation-tolerant spacecraft into a long, looping orbit around Jupiter to perform repeated close flybys of the icy moon.NASA has selected nine science instruments for the mission.

On its closest flyby, Galileo swept over Europa at more than 2,230 miles per hour.

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