Europa water plume: Another step toward living on a moon

New research on a sort-of old set of data points toward a water plume on Jupiter's moon Europa. This plume of water points toward an environment on the moon which would be habitable by human beings. This is only the latest in a line of findings which point toward habitability on Jupiter's most friendly satellite rock.

Information shared this week came from the Galileo probe. This NASA-run Jupiter mission Galileo ran from the years 1995 until 2003, and collected loads of invaluable data on our most recognizable galactic cousin. Galileo flew by Europa a total of 11 times. One of those times, in the year 1997, Galileo flew within 128 miles of Europa.

The image at the head of this article is an artist's interpretation of what a plume of water vapor might look like blasting from Europa's surface. This image is from NASA, ESA, and K. Retherford.

It was in that closest flyby that information was sought and studied. The 1997 candidate for a water plume was reported to appear in the same general hotspot as previously reported possible plumes – those that occurred in 2014 and 2016. Back in 1997, it's almost as if researchers didn't know to look for plumes of this sort – or simply did not expect such things.

One author of the study published this week was Xianzhe Jia, an associate professor in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of Michigan. According to Jai, data studied here showed "compelling independent evidence that there seems to be a plume on Europa."

A mission called Europa Clipper was proposed several years ago. This mission would launch in the 2020s and would pass by Europa enough times to (hopefully) detect water plumes with more confidence than ever found before. If enough evidence of water plumes is found, NASA (and other space agencies, we must assume) will investigate further, maybe someday bringing back samples.

For more information on the plume reported this week, read the paper "Evidence of a plume on Europa from Galileo magnetic and plasma wave signatures" as published by Nature Astronomy. This paper was authored by Xianzhe Jia, Margaret G. Kivelson, Krishan K. Khurana, and William S. Kurth and can be found with code doi:10.1038/s41550-018-0450-z.