New Evidence of water plumes on Jupiter´s moon, Europa
Europa is a major target in the search for extraterrestrial life after researchers found signs of water plumes above its icy surface.
Citing data collected by NASA’s Galileo probe more than two decades ago, scientists report that giant jets of water are spouting more than 100 miles off that moon’s surface.
The research, led by the University of Michigan’s space physicist, Xianzhe Jia, was published in the journal Nature Astronomy and confirmed the existence of plumes, analysing data collected in 1997 with new and more advanced computer models that were trying to solve the mystery of Europa´s distorted magnetic field. Also in 2012, The Hubble Space Telescope collected ultraviolet data suggestive of a plume.
NASA will have the opportunity to look better at Europa during the Europa Clipper mission, which could be launched in June 2022, providing an opportunity to collect samples of signs of life, perhaps microbial. Also the European Space Agency (ESA) has a planned mission, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice), which should be launched at the same time.
“We know that Europe has many of the necessary ingredients for the existance of life, and in life as we know it, there is water, there is energy, there is some carbon, but Europa is one of the big issues we want to understand,” said the scientist Elizabeth Turtle of the Laboratory of Applied Physics at Johns Hopkins University.
“And one of the really exciting things about detecting a plume is that it means there can be shapes of it in the ocean material – which is probably the most habitable part of Europa because it’s warmer and protected from radiation by an ice sheet ,” Turtle said in a news conference.
Discovered by Galileo in 1610, Europa is considered one of the main places that probably hold life in our solar system, but it´s not the only one. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft analyzed plumes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which contained hydrogen from hydrothermal sources, an environment that may have given rise to life on Earth.
Slightly smaller than the Earth’s moon, Europa´s ocean is trapped under a layer of ice 15 to 25 km thick, with an estimated depth of 60 to 150 km. However, surface temperatures never rise above -160 degrees celsius.