wnol.info July 20 2018

NASA Finds Evidence Of Water Plumes On Jupiter's Moon Europa

July 20 2018, 08:24 | Guillermo Bowen

Europa is venting water into space, old spacecraft data suggest

Yes, Europa really is sending plumes of water into space

A new analysis of the measurements made by NASA's Galileo spacecraft more than 20 years ago in the ice sheet of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, revealed that it could have enough ingredients to sustain life.

Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus are showcasing some of these key ingredients for life in their oceans, which is why researchers believe they are the best chance for finding life beyond Earth in our own solar system.

Previous images showed what scientists think is Europa spewing water in 2012 and 2016.

It's also possible-and perhaps more likely-that any plumes come from a lake or some other reservoir trapped in the ice. The agency is developing a $2 billion Jupiter-orbiting mission called Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in the early to mid-2020s. The prevailing theory is the water comes directly from Europa's subsurface ocean and is being driven upward by hydrothermal activity much like that which powers geysers on Earth.

Today, NASA unveiled the salty plumes of Jupiter's moon Europa, but Texas Representative John Culberson beat them to it last week.

NASA described the report as "good news" ahead of a new mission to the moon, named the Europa Clipper mission. Some astronomers were skeptical of the Hubble results, however. If researchers want to know if some form of life has indeed taken root inside the planet, studying those plumes may be the easiest way to prove it.

USA legislators this month TO approved a bill that would give $US545 million to the Europa Clipper mission.

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"There now seem to be too many lines of evidence to dismiss plumes at Europa", Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist at JPL, said in a statement. Xianzhe Jia, the lead author of the study, told Mashable, "This is potentially great news for future exploration of Europa, because spacecraft may have a chance to directly sample materials that are linked to the subsurface ocean".

Galileo was passing some 200 kilometres (124 miles) above Europa's surface when it apparently flew through the plume. During that pass, the spacecraft took about five minutes to traverse Europa's face. In the sequence of numbers produced by those two instruments, they immediately spotted something unusual: Anomalous blips, lasting about three minutes, centred around Galileo's closest approach to the moon. The magnetic detectors recorded a kink in the magnetic field and the on-board plasma wave spectrometer picked up increased levels of ionized particles. By and large, those model predictions matched their observations, ruling out Jupiter as the source and strengthening the case for watery plumes erupting from Europa's depths.

"That's the moment where we realized that we might have something in the old Galileo data that we never paid much attention to", Jia says. The data from the Galileo was then considered and became the focus of the study. "So when you put those two together, that indicated that something very special had happened during that interval". That's because heat from the interior of the moon is being forced upward in the plumes. But Jia and his team wanted to make sure. A spacecraft flying past the spray could collect the contents for testing. The Galileo observations matched the simulation nearly perfectly.

This was the first strong evidence of these eruptions in the freezing world.

That news-confirmed observation of a plume of salt water, which suggests Europa's environment could allow microbial life to develop-is a major reason why he is so eager for NASA to return. Learn facts about the solar system's genesis, plus its planets, moons, and asteroids.

What does this mean for the Clipper spacecraft? What they found is that magnetometer readings and radio signals also showed anomalies when the craft flew over the area of the purported plumes determined by Hubble. What it finds will be anyone's guess. "We can even collect dust particles".

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