This may be the best evidence yet of a water plume on Jupiter's moon Europa

By Mike Wall
May 14, 2018, 2:24:49 PM EDT

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The case for a giant plume of water vapor wafting from Jupiter's potentially life-supporting moon Europa just got a lot stronger.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has spotted tantalizing signs of such a plume multiple times over the past half decade, but those measurements were near the limits of the powerful instrument's sensitivity. Now, researchers report in a new study that NASA's Galileo Jupiter probe, which orbited the planet from 1995 to 2003, also detected a likely Europa plume, during a close flyby of the icy moon in 1997.

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Jupiter's moon Europa, as photographed by NASA's Galileo spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute


The newly analyzed Galileo data provides "compelling independent evidence that there seems to be a plume on Europa," said study lead author Xianzhe Jia, an associate professor in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of Michigan.

This is exciting news for astrobiologists: If the plume is indeed real, it could offer a way for a spacecraft to sample Europa's buried ocean of liquid water without even touching down on the moon. And NASA is working on a mission that could do just that.

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