A new line of discovery on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has kindled hopes for extraterrestrial life. Twenty-one year old data from Galileo spacecraft of NASA has shown evidence of a plume of material coming from Europa’s surface. This result proves that old data from the dead spacecraft might hold the key of many secrets that are yet to be uncovered.
According to scientists, the distant and cold Europa is the first place they want to probe while looking for life on other planets. It is one of the four large moons that circle the largest planet of our Solar system. Its frigid exterior is expected to hide a massive ocean having twice the water contained on Earth.
Europa is pulled largely by the gravitational force of Jupiter which creates huge tidal forces that keep the Ocean liquid and warm (compared to the surrounding temperature). If that ocean has adequate life-supporting chemicals and sufficient heat, it has the potential to host the same types of microbes as found in the depths of the Oceans of our planet. It is worth mentioning in this regard that Enceladus, a small moon of Saturn, is also expected to have habitable and large ocean. The plumes of water and ice were noticed from the surface of this moon by Cassini spacecraft of NASA in 2005.
The presence of ocean was seen in Enceladus much before Europa. Europa came into spotlight in 2012 when the Hubble Space Telescope of NASA hints of water molecules near the Southern pole. However, the researchers were still under doubt about the presence of the plumes. Melissa McGrath of the SETI Institute confirmed the location of those plumes. This led to XianzheJia, space physicist at the University of Michigan, deducting that these plume spots were in a region that was visited by Galileo spacecraftin 1995 to 2003 when it was the Jovian system.
The researchers found out that Galileo has swooped to 124 miles above the moon’s surface in December 1997. These kind of plumes affect the plasma environ and magnetic fields and as Galileo approached Europa both plasma density and the magnetic field went wild. This was a sure shot indication that the spacecraft was passing through a plume. The information would help Europa Clipper mission of NASA slated to launch in 2022. This spacecraft will sample dust and ice particles from Europa to ascertain the possibility of the presence of life.