NASA live science chat tomorrow: New evidence for water vapour plumes on Europa?

View of Europa from the Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA will be hosting a live stream update tomorrow about Jupiter’s moon Europa with new analysis as to the habitability of this ocean world. Tune in on Monday, May 14 at 10 a.m. PDT (1 p.m. EDT) for the latest information. While specific details are still unknown, it likely has to do with a new paper about to be published in Nature Astronomy, which was mentioned recently by Congressman John Culberson (ahead of the embargo which reportedly ends tomorrow).

“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 a thousand kilometres thick. So, the ocean of Europa is venting into outer space,” [Said John Culberson, Republican representative from Texas.] “The science community has wanted to go there for years, Mr. Chairman, and this bill makes that happen.”

If so, it means that the old Galileo probe to Jupiter actually flew through a huge water vapour plume erupting from Europa’s surface (but not known at the time), just like the Cassini probe flew through the water plumes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus (on purpose, to sample them). The plumes on Europa have also been tentatively detected by the Hubble Space Telescope, but not fully confirmed yet. This new finding (pulled from old data) could help confirm the Europan plumes, which, as on Enceladus, would likely originate from the salty ocean below the surface. It would also provide a new way of searching for evidence of life in that ocean without having to drill through the ice crust.

 

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