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Current Affairs

Jupiter’s moon Europa shooting water into space

Date: 16 May 2020 Tags: Space

Issue

A new study led by the European Space Agency (ESA) found new evidence that Jupiter’s moon Europa is indeed spouting plumes of water into space, suggesting the icy moon could hold vast subsurface oceans.

 

Background

Astronomers have long suggested that the icy moon leaks water. Now, a new analysis of data collected by the ESA’s Galileo probe, back in the year 2000, lends fresh evidence that it really is.

 

Details

  • Europa is covered in a thick layer of ice, which scientists strongly suspect is hiding a subsurface ocean. Steady gravitational tugs from Jupiter keep this water warm and liquid, but scientists have good reason to believe that some of this water escapes by bursting through cracks on Europa’s icy surface.

  • Galileo found a strange dip in recorded protons, positively charged particles, near Europa. Previous studies suggested the dip was caused by the moon itself obscuring the detector on the spacecraft.

  • But the new ESA-led study has a new explanation for the lack of recorded protons: Plumes of water shooting into space could be disrupting the moon’s thin atmosphere and disturbing the magnetic fields in the area.

  • A similar phenomenon was spotted by NASA’s Cassini orbiter in 2008, when it detected evidence of water plumes shooting out from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, which also appears to host a subsurface ocean.

  • The existence of water plumes could point towards a possible way inside to study the moon’s oceans below, and even probe them for evidence of extraterrestrial life.

  • ESA is planning its next flyby of Jupiter’s icy moons as soon as 2029, as part of its “JUICE” (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) mission. The explorer will spend three whole years studying Jupiter and three of its largest moons, including Europa.

  • JUICE will carry the equipment needed to directly sample particles within the moon’s water vapour plumes and also to detect them remotely.

 

Galileo mission

  • Galileo was an American uncrewed spacecraft that studied the planet Jupiter and its moons, as well as several other Solar System bodies.

  • Galileo's prime mission was a two-year study of the Jovian system. The spacecraft traveled around Jupiter in elongated ellipses, each orbit lasting about two months. The differing distances from Jupiter afforded by these orbits allowed Galileo to sample different parts of the planet's extensive magnetosphere.