Water Plume, Prospects for Life Discovered on Europa

(From CBS News)

A review of data captured by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft as it orbited Jupiter in the 1990s indicates it likely flew through a plume of water vapor spewing from cracks in the surface of the moon Europa, providing independent evidence water is being released from a vast sub-surface ocean beneath its frozen crust, scientists said Monday.

The Galileo data are consistent with earlier observations by the Hubble Space Telescope that captured signs of presumed plumes at the limits of detectability. In both cases, the data indicate plumes erupted from roughly the same region, a known thermal “hot spot” on the moon’s surface.

“There now seem to be too many lines of evidence to dismiss plumes at Europa,” Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist at JPL, said in a statement. “This result makes the plumes seem to be much more real and, for me, is a tipping point.” The Europa Clipper spacecraft is expected to launch in the mid 2020s to get a much closer look.

Life as it is known on Earth requires energy, organic compounds and liquid water, and all three may be present below the surface of Europa.

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