Scientists discover more evidence of water on Jupiter's moon Europa in old images

The Galileo orbiter may have unwittingly flown through one of Europa's water plumes twenty-years ago.
By Lliane Hunter | Dec 05, 2018
Scientists discoverimages of what seems to be the Galileo orbiter flying througha plume of water shooting out from Jupiter's moon Europa twenty years ago. On December 16, 1997, Galileo flew 400 kilometers above Europa's surface and recorded an isolated spike in the magnetic field along with a spike in the energy of the particles it detected, writes Ryan F. Mandelbaum for Gizmodo.

Looking at the twenty-year evidence with fresh eyes, a team of researchers believe the spike was Galileo flying through a plume of water. "This wasn't planned out," says study author Xianzhe Jia from the University of Michigan. "It just so happened that the spacecraft passed through a region where we saw plumes." When NASA announced in 2013 that Hubble spotted what appeared to be water vapor above the moon's south pole, Jia and his team decided to look for more evidence of the plumes using images taken by Galileo. They found what they were looking for--the evidence seemed clear.

Jesse Christiansen, staff scientist at the NASA Exoplanet Archive, is excited by the results. "It's incredible that these authors were able to go back to 20-year-old observations from the Galileo spacecraft with new information and fresh eyes and find this smoking-gun evidence that Galileo encountered one of Europa's plumes," he told Gizmodo. Scientists are preparing for the "Europa Clipper" mission that would potentially sample the plumes for biological material, writes Mandelbaum. Grant Tremblay, astrophysicist at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, believes the images offer more evidence of water on Jupiter's moon."Europa's possible subsurface ocean remains among the best candidate harbors of extraterrestrial life in our Solar System."


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