Plumes of ocean spray are emanating from Jupiter's moon Europa


Galileo Galilei discovered Europa in 1610, and the moon has been keenly observed by humanity ever since - including by the NASA space probe named after him.

A "science chat" held by NASA at noon today could prove to be quite interesting as it pertains to one of the most promising places for life in our solar system.

"There now seem to be too many lines of evidence to dismiss plumes at Europa", said Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena.

"There were some anomalous features in that close pass in December 1997 that we never fully understood", said Margaret Kivelson, a senior scientist on the Galileo mission and emeritus professor of space physics at the University of California in Los Angeles.

The interpretation of those images has been debated; the images pushed the limits of Hubble's sensitivity, and sometimes the space telescope was unable to spot the plumes altogether.

NASA has found some of the most solid evidence yet that Jupiter's moon Europa releases water from its surface into space.

Old data from NASA's Galileo mission suggest the spacecraft may have passed through a giant water plume spewing into space from Europa's surface. According to Jai, data studied here showed "compelling independent evidence that there seems to be a plume on Europa".

This could help scientists to determine if Europa's ocean is habitable to life - or detect signs of it directly - without having to land a probe on the moon's surface.

That's when the University of Michigan's Xianzhe Jia and colleagues made a decision to revisit those archival data and see what kinds of nuggets they could find.

Kivelson explained that the Plume's electrically charged particles bring about the magnetic field shifts and shift in the density of electrons within the environment, as estimated by the "plasma wave" equipment.

Back in 1997 the Galileo Jupiter probe skimmed the watery moon of Europa and now it appears it got a facefull from a water plume 1,000km (621 miles) wide.

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The study looked at the magnetic and plasma wave signatures captured by NASA's spacecraft Galileo, which reached Jupiter's atmosphere in 2003.

"The sudden, short-duration jump in the frequency of intense emissions can be interpreted as consistent with a highly localized source of plasma, thereby supporting the hypothesis that the magnetic perturbations arise from passage through a localized plume", write the authors of a new paper describing the findings in Nature Astronomy.

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.

But the water could originate elsewhere, Jia cautioned.

Recently, evidence has been building that Europa may have a plume as well.

At the time the blip in the data was unexplained but it is now believed it was a water plume.

In addition, "to make sense of the observations, we had to really go for sophisticated numerical modeling" techniques, he told

"Even with our wildest imagination, we always see stuff that we totally did not expect", McGrath says.

"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".

The Europa Clipper mission is expected to shed more light on the elusive moon with rapid, low-altitude flybys from its orbit. During this trip, the spacecraft swung by Europa 11 times, conducting radio experiments that hint of an atmosphere.