An old NASA probe offers new evidence of feathers on Jupiter’s moon
Jupiter’s moon, Europa, here in a NASA image, probably has under its icy surface a salty ocean about twice the size of Earth’s
A new look at data collected in 1997 suggests that NASA’s Galileo spacecraft traversed a huge column of water vapor that came out of the bowels of Jupiter’s moon Europa, growing the hope of finding signs of life in another body. Of the solar system.
The revelations, released Monday, came after scientists again reviewed the bewildering records of an instrument carrying the Galileo spacecraft, which in 1995 became the first to enter the orbit of a giant gas planet.
What they found was the most direct evidence so far of jets emerging from the icy surface of Europe, researchers reported in the journal Nature Astronomy.
For a long time it is believed that Europe is covered by a salty ocean twice the size of our planet.
Due to the suspicion that under its icy surface there is liquid and warm water, this moon is considered by NASA as a “strong candidate” for the existence of life in a body of the solar system different from Earth.
In recent years, the Hubble Space Telescope has detected evidence of feathers in Europe, but from afar. Galileo approached much more during his 11 overflights.
“In a particular passage about Europe, the spacecraft arrived very, very close to the surface, 150 kilometers (93 miles) above the surface, and it was in that passage that we saw signs that we had never understood,” he said in the channel. NASA Margaret Kivelson, professor emeritus of space physics at the University of California, Los Angeles.
That region was in an area where Hubble had detected repeated evidence of vapor columns.
Another researcher recently presented findings from Hubble’s collection of observations, and “that led us to realize that we had to go back and look at the Galileo data,” said Xianzhe Jia, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. .
For the new study, experts measured variations in the moon’s magnetic field and plasma waves, relying on Galileo’s nearby flyby, and discovered that they were “consistent” with the spacecraft traversing a plume of water vapor.
“These results provide strong independent evidence for the presence of geysers in Europe,” they wrote in Nature.
The team reconstructed the course of the spacecraft to identify the location of the vapor column on the surface of the moon.
“These findings will help plan future missions to Europe, such as NASA’s Europa Clipper and ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, both planned to reach Jupiter between the late 2020s and the early 2030s.” said Nature.
– The questions persist –
Previously, NASA had twice reported evidence from its Hubble Space Telescope of the existence of water columns on the Europa moon, although this interpretation has been the subject of much debate.
And there are still many questions about what these columns contain and if it could involve some form of life.
Elizabeth Turtle, a research scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., Said the ocean floor “is probably the most livable part of Europe because it is warmer and is protected from environmental radiation by the ice sheet.”
And if the feathers sprout like geysers, “there may be ways for that ocean material to emerge through the ice sheet and that means we might be able to take samples from it,” he added.
NASA referred to the report as “good news” for its unmanned mission Europe Clipper, an $ 8 billion dollar effort in the process of launching in June 2022 that is forecasting a series of low-level overflights of Europe in which it could Collect samples of the frozen liquid and dust particles.
“There seem to be many lines of evidence now to dismiss feathers in Europe,” said Robert Pappalardo, a scientist with the Europa Clipper project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“If there are feathers, and we can take samples directly from what comes from the interior of Europe, then we can know more easily if it has the ingredients for life,” he said in a statement.
Galileo was launched in 1989 to examine the fifth planet closest to the Sun. Before ending its mission in 2003 by dropping planarly into Jupiter’s atmosphere, Galileo reported the first data that suggested the existence of an ocean of liquid water below the surface. of his moon, Europe.