Science

Like Your Most Drunken Saturday Nights, Jupiter's Moon Spews Liquid

Like Your Most Drunken Saturday Nights, Jupiter's Moon Spews Liquid”

Instruments on the Europa Clipper will have to be sensitive enough to capture the particles from the water plume.

Old data from NASA's Galileo spacecraft shows that it may have traveled through a plume of water on the moon of Europa in 1997 without scientists realizing what had happened.

Checking for the presence of the water plumes on Europa, the Jupiter's icy moon, is, thus, of utmost significance and is getting closer to being a real thing because a United States science team managed to rebuild a 3D model of one of the plumes, basing themselves on the data collected by Galileo probe.

Artist's illustration of Jupiter and Europa (in the foreground) with the Galileo spacecraft after its pass through a plume erupting from Europa's surface. He has made common cause with supporters of the Boeing-built Space Launch System, a huge rocket NASA is developing to explore the solar system.

At 1,900 miles (3,100 kilometers) wide, Europa is slightly smaller than Earth's moon.

Researchers have long believed that Europa is home to a vast saltwater ocean, trapped beneath a thick crust of ice, making the moon potentially habitable for life and a focus of upcoming robotic exploration.

It is thought to have an iron core, a rocky mantle and a surface ocean of salty water, like Earth. But researchers suspected that Europa may have lakes under its icy crust that made it worthy of investigation.

As the Inquisitr reported earlier today, NASA announced a major update on Jupiter's icy moon.

That's particularly exciting because it also suggests that Europa may have an energy source propelling the water skyward. The particles that are spread by the plumes will be found in the atmosphere of Europa. In late 2012, Hubble spotted signs of such a feature near the moon's south pole.

Jia explained that the team was inspired to take another look at the Galileo data because the Hubble Space Telescope recently found some evidence for possible plumes shooting from Europa. Old data from the Galileo mission provides scientists with the strongest proof of water on Europa.

The Galileo spacecraft may be dead, but it still has stories to tell. The team, led by Xianzhe Jia, zeroed in one particular flyby of Europa on December 16th, 1997 in which the spacecraft was just 206 km (128 miles) above the moon's surface.

Old data from the Jupiter probe Galileo shows that it flew through a water plume on the moon of Europa.

"With the Hubble data in hand", Dr. Kivelson said, "we had an idea of how big a plume might be reasonable". And these lines of evidence are independent of those gathered by Hubble.

Europa is set to be explored by two different spacecraft in the next decade. For starters, Jia said, the Galileo mission team wasn't specifically looking for plumes. We needed to see whether there was anything in the data that could tell us whether or not there was a plume. "[To] make sense of the observations, we had to really go for sophisticated numerical modeling...and I don't think those were available back 20 years ago", he says. Xianzhe Jia, a University of MI space scientist, and his colleagues published their findings on May 14 in Nature Astronomy. 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.

If all goes according to plan, Clipper will make 40 to 45 flybys of Europa over the course of its mission, studying the moon's ice shell and subsurface ocean in an attempt to better understand Europa's potential to host life as we know it. Europa Clipper will also scout out locations for a future lander mission, which Congress has directed the space agency to develop as well.



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