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Scientists Discover Evidence for Water on Europa
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Researchers at NASA’s Planetary Science Division have been using 21-year-old data from the now-dead Galileo spacecraft to figure out whether one of Jupiter’s moons is home to a warm ocean beneath its ice-encrusted surface – and it looks like it does, according to scientists.
NASA’s old Galileo spacecraft, which flew about 124 miles from Europa’s surface in December of 1997, spit out data that suggested plumes of water were shooting up from the moon’s surface.
Xianzhe Jia, a space physicist from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, realized that Galileo’s data could still be valuable when he was listening to a presentation from the SETI Institute that discussed potential water plumes throughout space based on images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Because one of the possible plume locations was on Europa, and because Jia realized that the data from Galileo’s flyby could hold the keys, he and his team dove in.
They discovered that it was most likely that Galileo passed directly through a plume near Europa’s surface – and that discovery could shape the flight path of Clipper, a spacecraft designed to launch as early as 2022 to sample ice and dust particles.
Europa is far colder than Earth, clocking in at negative 260 degrees F, but its ocean could be far warmer. Like Earth’s ocean, Europa’s might contain vents to the mantle that keeps the moon moving – and that could provide the necessary thermal environment for life to thrive and evolve.
What Do You Think?
Do you think that having an ocean on another planet’s moon means there’s a possibility for life there? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please share them on my Facebook page or on Twitter.