Jupiter is the 5th Planet from the Sun and largest in the Solar System. Recently, NASA Scientists have found tantalizing evidence of a liquid water ocean swirling under the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa, NASA announced on last Monday, with new evidence of water plumes bursting out into space. With Jupiter as a bright light behind the moon, the scientists observed Europa in silhouette and with ultraviolet light saw what appeared to be evidence of the plumes. Evidence shows that moon’s liquid water bursts out into space, meaning that scientists can test samples for signs of life without drilling through miles of ice.
“If plumes exist, this is an exciting find,” lead researcher William Sparks said. “It means we may be able to explore that ocean, that ocean of Europa, and for organic chemicals,” he added. “It would allow us to search for signs of life without having to drill through miles of ice.”
The apparent plumes seem to be mostly around the South Pole, Sparks said, although one appears farther north and may be a likelier candidate for a mission. “We presume it to be water vapor or ice particles because that’s what Europa’s made of, and those molecules do appear at the wavelengths we observed.”
With other instruments, he said, the scientists could search for hydrogen, oxygen and other chemicals that could hint to what the ocean is made up of. Europa is one of the most active bodies in the solar system: about the size of Earth’s moon, and at its warmest only about -260F (-160C), and covered in an icy shell that makes one of the most reflective objects in the neighborhood. But the moon also has rarer qualities: evidence of abundant liquid water, a rocky core that would have a range of chemicals, and energy generated by tidal heating – the moon is tidally locked to Jupiter, with one face always toward the gas giant. Should the moon have water, energy and organic chemicals, it could have the basic building blocks that developed into life on Earth.
For a long time humanity has been wondering whether there is life beyond Earth, NASA astrophysicist Paul Hertz said. “We’re lucky enough to live in an era where we can address questions like that scientifically. We have a special interest in any place that might possess those characteristics. Europa might be such a place.”
The finding, NASA’s astrophysicist Paul Hertz said, increases our confidence that water and other materials in Europa’s ocean, Europa’s hidden ocean, might be … available for us to study without us landing and digging on those unknown miles of ice.
Scientists have collected clues for decades of an ocean beneath Europa’s icy shell. In 1979, Voyager spacecraft showed that the ice was cracked in some places, like ice floes on Earth, and the 1990s Galileo mission, who spent eight years orbiting Jupiter, confirmed the ocean under Europa. A 2016 study suggested that Europa produces 10 times more oxygen than hydrogen, and a 2014 study suggested the moon may have plate tectonics, qualities that would make it like Earth. NASA scientists have been working on proposals for a Europa mission for 15 years, and has a tentative plan to send a spacecraft on a flyby near the moon in the 2020s.