NASA Says Jupiter's Moon Europa Is Shooting Liquid Water From Underground Oceans Into Space

Monday, 14 May 2018 - 12:29PM
Astronomy
Solar System
Europa
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Monday, 14 May 2018 - 12:29PM
NASA Says Jupiter's Moon Europa Is Shooting Liquid Water From Underground Oceans Into Space
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NASA Goddard
Recent data from the NASA Galileo mission to Jupiter's moon Europa may have just made the biggest scientific breakthrough in years. Evidence from Galileo, backed by years of observations from the Hubble Telescope, suggests that Europa has been shooting geysers of liquid water into its atmosphere for decades.

This is exciting for two reasons. First, it lends credence to the theory that Europa has an ocean of liquid water buried under its icy shell. Second, it means that if NASA's mission to Europa in 2028 goes ahead as planned, we can fly a probe through a geyser and get a sample of what the moon's ocean is like without having to land on its surface. In fact, Galileo probably already did the latter back in 1997, but no one realized what had happened. Unfortunately for us, Galileo also didn't have the equipment to look for signs of life.

That's probably going to change in the next mission, however. Europa has long been considered one of the best potential candidates for extraterrestrial life in our own solar system – partly because it's subterranean ocean is thought to have direct contact with the moon's core, which might create an engine for chemical reactions that lead to the development of life.

You may rightly wonder how NASA scientists missed these water plumes in 1997, but the truth is that they didn't – Margaret Kivelson, the original principal investigator of Galileo's magnetometer results (which were used in the recent study), had already tried to argue that there was an ocean of liquid water beneath Europa's icy exterior, but had been shot down. According to her: "To go from there to also there are geysers coming up from that ocean, we just weren't ready for that."

What's funny is that this isn't the first time overlooked data from Galileo has been used to make a breakthrough. Earlier this month, astronomers resurrected old data from the Galileo mission to shed light on Ganymede, a uniquely magnetic natural satellite orbiting Jupiter. Who knows what else NASA's missed?

We can't wait to find out.

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Astronomy
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