Giant water plumes likely erupt from Europa, study reports

Scientists believe large water plumes are behind the magnetic signals coming from Jupiter's moon Europa.
By Joseph Scalise | May 15, 2018
New evidence gathered by astronomers from various U.S. universities suggests that there are plumes of water erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa, a new study published in Nature Astronomy reports.

Scientists collected this new data by looking at information gathered by the Galileo spacecraft in 1997. Though the research has been available for 20 years, only now have researchers used it to try and confirm the existence of water plumes on the distant moon.

Researchers have long believed that liquid water moves around beneath Europa's icy crust. While recent observations have built on such claims, astronomers have never been able to get a good look at the moon.

"We're looking for effects that are relatively small, and are pushing the spatial resolution of the telescope," saidSusana Deutsua, anastrophysicistat the Space Telescope Science Institute, according to NPR.

Galileo orbited Jupiter for seven years. In that time it gathered a wealth of information about both the planet and its natural satellites. Upon revisiting such data, the team behind the study discovered strange magnetic signals that had not been fully explored or analyzed.

After some research, the team concluded the best explanation for the signals is that they come from plumes of water shooting off of Europa. That does only give a new look at the moon, but it also shows future missions could fly through the plumes and search for potential signs of life.

While astronomers did note the signals in 1997, they did not have the technology to make the leap that the oceans beneath Europa's surface had gigantic geysers shooting out of them. Such a claim has only been possible due to new studies and advancements in technology.

"This wasn't planned out," lead author Xianzhe Jia, a researchers at the University of Michigan told Gizmodo. "It just so happened that the spacecraft passed through a region where we saw plumes. It was fortuitous."

The team plans to further analyze their new findings and hope future journeys to Jupiter will give even more information on the mechanisms that drive Europa.

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