Old NASA spacecraft points to new evidence of watery plumes over Europa

Yes, Europa really is sending plumes of water into space

For the new study, experts measured variations in the moon's magnetic field and plasma waves, based on data obtained during Galileo's close flyby, and found they were "consistent" with the spacecraft crossing a plume. That's in line with observations made by the Hubble Space Telescope.

If Galileo already flew within the immediate vicinity of the jets without even trying, NASA could certainly achieve the same feat with a new probe created to specifically to sample the icy plumes in the hunt for microbial life or some other organic proof that something is alive in Europa's depths. Jia and his team took an in-depth look at information the probe gathered during the closest of these encounters - a 1997 flyby that brought Galileo within 128 miles (206 km) of the moon's frigid, fractured surface.

An artist's illustration of a plume of water vapour from Jupiter's moon Europa.

The case for Jupiter's moon Europa as one of the best places to look for life beyond Earth just got a new boost from some old data.

An enhanced-color view of Jupiter's moon Europa.

That mission, now dubbed Europa Clipper, could be informed by research published online Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Unlike on Earth, however, this ocean is deep enough to cover the whole surface of Europa, and being far from the sun, the ocean surface is globally frozen over.

Nasa scientists are on the verge of exploring Jupiter's ocean moon Europa for signs of alien life.

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Europa is one of the most talked-about bodies in the Solar System, not only because it was so integral to Arthur C Clarke's classic 2001 series, and the new data is already being put into action.

Nasa's Europa Clipper and the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) are slated to launch in the early to mid-2020s, both armed with high-resolution cameras and a suite of other sensitive instruments.

"These results provide strong independent evidence of the presence of plumes at Europa", they wrote. The experiments showed Europa possesses an atmosphere.

That region was in an area where the Hubble Space Telescope had spotted repeated evidence of plumes. The team also zeroed in on the location of the plume on the moon's surface, which matches up with a "hot spot" that could be explained by warm water making its way up through Europa's icy shell, much like the famed geysers of Yellowstone and elsewhere on Earth. Such claims have sparked speculation that life forms might live in an ocean beneath the ice, and that traces of such life could be detected by a future mission.

The conditions could serve as a stand-in to investigating alien life, scientists say.

The moon, smaller than our own, is covered with a layer of cracked ice that covers a vast underground sea.

NASA originally wanted to use the Clipper mission to land a probe on Europa for direct sampling, and one idea was for a robot melt its way down through the ice and into the waters below, but budget cuts put paid to that.

'If we can collect a sample of the water, we may determine whether microbial life exists, how it evolved, and how it continues to live in this cold environment with no connection to the atmosphere'.

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