The case for a giant plume of water vapor wafting from Jupiter’s potentially life-supporting moon Europa just got a lot stronger.
By Mike Wall | SPACE.com
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.
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. [Possible Water Plumes on Europa: The Discovery in Images]
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.