NASA spacecraft 'flew through plume of alien water' 20 years ago

But in 2008 NASA's Cassini spacecraft swing by the Saturnian moon of Enceladus and intentionally flew through one of the plumes of matter than the body periodically emits to examine what it contained.

Images captured by the Hubble Telescope have previously suggested the presence of ocean plumes ejected through tissues in the icy crust of Jupiter's moon. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope which is alert enough have spotted such plume over past half-decade, but such data which it collected was within its range. "It's worth noting that the scientific journal Nature Astronomy just reported that the Galileo mission, back in 1997, flew through a water plume on Europa 1,000 kilometers thick", Culberson said during an appropriations subcommittee markup in the House. This new discovery used data collected much closer to the source and is considered strong, corroborating support for plumes.

Study lead author Xianzhe Jia, from the University of Michigan's Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, told Space.com that the new analysis of the Galileo data offers "compelling independent evidence that there seems to be a plume on Europa".

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.

Jia hopes this paper will inspire fellow researchers to keep looking at Europa's plumes.

Prof. Margaret Kivelson of the University of California and leader of the "Galileo magnetometer team", said that the substance that is oozing out from the surface of Europa is perhaps electrically neutral and is influenced by moisture. This would let the scientists search molecules, which could be capable of supporting the formation of life there. Until now, only images from the Hubble Space Telescope have hinted at these geysers, though the mere possibility that they exist has fueled intense interest in sending probes there to investigate.

They also looked at the Hubble observations for dimensions of the plumes and Galileo's Plasma Wave Spectrometer data, which measured signatures of plasma waves that are caused by charged particles in the gases around Europa's atmosphere.

When the plume's particles become electrically conductive, they alter the surrounding magnetic fields.

Dr Elizabeth Turtle, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said the subsurface ocean "is likely the most habitable part of Europa because it is warmer and it is protected from the radiation environment by the ice shell". The European Space Agency is also planning to launch a spacecraft called the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or JUICE, in 2022, although Europa will need to share its attentions with Ganymede and Callisto.

The research team behind the study notes that this new finding makes Europa one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for life. The question of whether there is life on Europa, despite harboring favorable conditions, remains unanswered, but not for too long we suppose. That's in contrast to Enceladus, where a spacecraft was still in the neighborhood and able to gather more information when the moon's plumes were first detected.

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. The Europa Clipper, named for the innovative, streamlined ships of the 1800s, will launch in the 2020s and arrive at Europa after a few years. The spacecraft will make repeated flybys of Jupiter and more than 40 close passes by Europa at altitudes as low as 16 miles. That's the big picture.


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