Aliens found? Scientists discover fresh evidence of life on Jupiter moon Europa

15 May, 2018, 22:19 | Author: Grady King
  • Jupiter's moon Europa harbors a saltwater ocean beneath an icy crust

Just like in the case of Jupiter's biggest moon Ganymede, old data from the Galileo mission that ended in 2003 has yielded a new exciting discovery about Europa. Although the data has been available since it was collected in 1997, it's only now that an analysis confirms the existence of water plumes.

"The idea that Europa might possess plumes seems to be becoming more and more real, and that's very good news for future exploration", said Xianzhe Jia, a space physicist at the University of MI and the lead author of the new paper on the phenomenon.

Xianzhe Jia is the first author on Monday's paper and a planetary scientist at the University of MI; he's also working on instruments that will fly on both Clipper and JUICE. An ice penetrating radar will determine the thickness of the moon's icy shell and search for subsurface lakes similar to those beneath Antarctica's ice sheet.

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The supposed Europa plume was discovered over a saline anomaly on the surface. No other flybys picked up evidence of these eruptions, though this particular one was the closest that the spacecraft came to Europa's surface. "It's more likely to come from pockets of liquid that are closer to the surface - so, not free ocean samples, but free subsurface samples". Previous estimates had suggested the moon's crust might be tens if not hundreds of kilometers thick-too thick, that is, to allow direct exploration of its potentially life-friendly ocean anytime soon.

But in 2016, and again in 2017, scientists reported that more Hubble images pointed to the presence of a plume, though something less dramatically exuberant than the geysers of Enceladus, which fly so high that they create a ring around Saturn.

If a plume were erupting, Jia says, the erupted water vapour and dust particles would be affected by magnetic fields, which is what the spacecraft detected. The moon is covered by dramatically cracked ice, but below it, scientists are pretty sure there's a giant subsurface ocean of salty water. The European Space Agency will be sending JUICE (Jupiter ICy moons Explorer), while NASA will be sending the Europa Clipper, which will be focusing on Europa to see if it has the right conditions to be able to host life. The solar system's ocean worlds might be the most promising place to look.

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"Using the probe we can detect particles, use the mass spectrometer to tell what the atmosphere is made of and sample its very tenuous atmosphere", Elizabeth Turtle, research scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory said in a press conference on Monday.

When the three minutes of data associated with the plume were analyzed after the flyby in 1997, scientists thought it was a phenomenon of Jupiter's magnetic fields.

Europa Clipper, such as Cassini, Ought to be able to fly through the Moon's plumes without a lot of threat to the spacecraft. "Those observations will provide crucial information for us to assess Europa's potential for life". "That we could translate into how long it would take Galileo to move across a plume that had been proposed". Or, maybe when the powerful James Webb Space Telescope finally launches (it has been pushed back several times), it will get a clearer picture of what is happening on the alien moon. Even if the water from Europa's icy seas comprises a massive number of additives, bringing the freezing temperatures lower than it's on Earth, it might still be warm enough to become liquid.

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"If plumes exist, and we can directly sample what's coming from the interior of Europa, then we can more easily get at whether Europa has the ingredients for life", he said in a statement.

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