A new analysis of the measurements made by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft more than 20 years ago in the ice sheet of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, has revealed that it could have enough ingredients to sustain life elsewhere in the system. Solar, outside the Earth.
The findings, released Monday, are the most concrete evidence – until now – of jets compatible with geysers, which emerge from the frozen surface of Europe. This is a research published by the journal Nature Astronomy, after reviewing the records obtained by the Galileo spacecraft, which in 1995 became the first spacecraft to enter the orbit of a giant gas planet.
The possible presence of water in Europe is a long-held scientific belief: astronomers assume that this moon is covered by a salty ocean with a surface area twice that of terrestrial oceans. That alleged ocean has its surface frozen and researchers believe that, beneath it, there is liquid and warm water, which makes NASA consider Europe a “strong candidate” for the existence of life there.
In recent years, the Hubble Space Telescope has detected evidence of steam columns in Europe, but from afar. The Galileo spacecraft got much closer during its eleven overflights.
“In a particular passage about Europe, the spacecraft came very close, it was 150 kilometers above the surface, and it was in that passage that we saw signs that we had never understood,” said Margaret Kivelson, professor at the NASA channel. of space physics from the University of California. 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.
For the new study, the experts measured variations in the magnetic field and plasma waves of the moon, relying on Galileo’s nearby flyby, and discovered that they were “consistent” with the spacecraft traversing a column of water vapor.
“These results provide strong independent evidence for the presence of geysers in Europe,” the researchers 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, planned to reach Jupiter between the late 2020s and the early 2030s,” said Nature.
At the moment, there are still many questions about what these columns contain and if they could involve some form of life.
Elizabeth Turtle, a research scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, said the ocean floor “is probably the most habitable part of Europe because it is warmer and is protected from environmental radiation by the ice sheet.” And if the steam columns sprout like geysers, “there may be ways for that ocean material to emerge through the ice sheet, which would allow us to be able to sample it,” he added.
“There seem to be many lines of evidence now to dismiss feathers in Europe,” said Robert Pappalardo, a scientist with NASA’s Europa Clipper project, a mission that plans to approach that moon by 2022 to sample dust and dust particles. what springs up in the steam columns.
“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,” says a NASA communication.
Galileo was launched in 1989 to examine the fifth planet closest to the Sun. Before finalizing its mission in 2003, the ship reported the first data that suggested the existence of an ocean of liquid water below the surface of Europe.