Published: Tue, May 15, 2018
Sci-tech | By Javier West

Jupiter's icy Moon Europa Shoots Water Plumes Into Space

Jupiter's icy Moon Europa Shoots Water Plumes Into Space

For years, planetary scientists have argued over whether Europa might be spitting water into space, as Saturn's moon Enceladus does.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has spotted tantalizing signs of such a plume multiple times over the past half decade, but those measurements were near the limits of the powerful instrument's sensitivity.

According to a study released previous year, the Hubble Space Telescope showed a water plume erupting on the warmest part of the surface of Europa, whose ocean contains twice as much water as Earth's seas.

During the 1997 flyby, the probe was just 124 miles above Europa's surface, and may have "grazed" a plume erupting from the icy surface.

This statement was made by Xianzhe Jia who is an associate professor in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering which is located at the University of MI.

'These results provide strong independent evidence of the presence of plumes at Europa, ' researchers wrote.

Huge fissures in the ice spew its ocean water out into space, kept warm deep under the ice by tidal forces generated by the planet and its host, Jupiter. 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.

"There now seem to be too many lines of evidence to dismiss plumes at Europa", said Pappalardo, who is a project scientist for the Europa Clipper mission. This would let the scientists search molecules, which could be capable of supporting the formation of life there.

To study the plumes, the probe will not need to pass directly through them. So Jia, Kivelson and their colleagues ran the data through a sophisticated modeling program that compared the observations with what scientists might expect to see from a plume of the dimensions reported by Hubble. The magnetic detectors recorded a kink in the magnetic field and the on-board plasma wave spectrometer picked up increased levels of ionized particles.

The surface temperature in Europa is around minus 274 levels Fahrenheit (minus 170 degrees Celsius), however in the event the water under the surface ice is liquid, then that will make it far warmer than that. The European Space Agency is also planning to launch a spacecraft called the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or JUICE, in 2022, although Europa will need to share its attentions with Ganymede and Callisto.

"This result makes the plumes seem to be much more real and, for me, is a tipping point". Jia layered the magnetometry and plasma wave signatures into new 3D modeling developed by his team at the University of MI, which simulated the interactions of plasma with solar system bodies. We realized we had to go back.

"When we look at those data carefully, what we found is there's some odd magnetic signals in those data that have never been explained before", Jai says.

An artist image of the planned NASA space mission to fly over the Jupiter Moon Europa. "That we could translate into how long it would take Galileo to move across a plume that had been proposed". "Much of what they talk about on Europa has all been speculation", Porco said. The Clipper can maintain a low-altitude over the moon's surface and gather a sample of the frozen liquid and dust particles from the plumes.

Schmidt will be an investigator for the ice-penetrating radar instrument that will be housed on the Europa Clipper.

"We know that Europa has a lot of the ingredients necessary for life, certainly for life as we know it". That's the big picture.

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