FREE NEWSLETTER: Econintersect sends a nightly newsletter highlighting news events of the day, and providing a summary of new articles posted on the website. Econintersect will not sell or pass your email address to others per our privacy policy. You can cancel this subscription at any time by selecting the unsubscribing link in the footer of each email.

posted on 30 September 2016

New Water Plumes From Jupiter's Moon Europa Raise Hopes Of Detecting Microbial Life

from The Conversation

-- this post authored by David Rothery, The Open University

The Hubble Space Telescope has obtained evidence of Jupiter's moon Europa erupting plumes of water vapour, NASA reports. Hubble first caught a glimpse of the jets in December 2012, but now more plumes have been revealed using a different technique.

The discovery is exciting, as Europa, with its large subsurface ocean, is one of the best candidates for microbial life in the solar system - despite its surface temperature being a frigid -160°C. And plumes mean that samples of microbes could be collected during a flyby, without having to land on the surface.

Europa is Jupiter's innermost large, icy moon (only slightly smaller than our own moon) and has about 100km of ice and liquid water surrounding its rocky interior.

Galileo discovery

Scientists started getting really interested in Europa following observations by NASA's Galileo probe of Jupiter and its moons from orbit between 1995 and 2003. These showed that Europa's surface ice is marked by multiple generations of parallel ridges and grooves, except where this pattern has been shattered by the surface breaking apart into randomly disposed slabs (known as "chaos regions"). This can be explained if Europa's icy shell floats on a layer of liquid water. Each grooved ridge could mark a crack that opened and closed with the changing tide during Europa's 3.5 day orbit of Jupiter - the ridges being formed from slush that was squeezed to the surface each time the crack closed. The chaos regions would represent slabs of the ice shell that broke apart as a region of the ocean became melted from below, powered by a release of tidal heat through the ocean floor - now frozen into a new configuration.

A 17km wide Galileo image of 'ball of string' terrain on Europa, where multiple generations of cracks in the ice shell have opened and closed. NASA/JPL/ASU

The region of Europa known as Conamara Chaos, imaged by Galileo. NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Microbes could live near the floor of Europa's internal ocean, feeding off the chemical energy supplied where hot water ("hydrothermal") vents discharge chemicals dissolved out of the tidally-heated rocky interior. This is the kind of setting where life on Earth is thought to have begun. Microbes whose ancestors had developed a taste for sunlight might now be found surviving by photosynthesis (like plants) in the water drawn up and (mostly) forced down again every time a tidal crack opened. However, although Galileo searched as hard as it was able (hampered by a failed antenna) it found no signs of present-day activity, such as water venting to space.

Alien Ocean: NASA's video about Europa's ocean and its habitability.

Europa versus Enceladus

Soon after Galileo's findings, Europa's crown as the most active icy moon was snatched away by Enceladus, a much smaller (500km diameter) moon of Saturn, in 2005. The Cassini probe discovered jets (or plumes) of ice crystals venting to space from cracks near Enceladus's south pole. In the decade that followed, it became clear that Enceladus has a global internal ocean between its icy surface shell and a rocky interior.

Jets erupting from cracks near the south pole of Enceladus. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini was even able to fly through the plumes, finding them to be chemically rich and bearing signs of the kind of water-rock interaction which could feed micriobial life. This raised hopes that such fly-throughs could one day find signs of microbial life (including maybe even a few ejected microbes themselves), without the need for a technically-challenging landing on the surface.

Cross section through the outer zone of Europa's south polar region showing plumes, the fractured ice shell, the liquid water ocean and the rocky interior. Edited by the author from a NASA source

It wasn't until December 2012 that the Hubble Space Telescope at last detected evidence for an active plume erupting from Europa, in the form of a faint ultraviolet glow caused by atoms of hydrogen and oxygen rising up to 200km above Europa's south pole. This is probably water molecules broken apart in the harsh space environment.

The location of ionized oxygen and hydrogen (strongly pixellated) detected by the Hubble Space Telescope in December 2012, superimposed on a Galileo image of Europa. Until now, this was the only evidence of active plumes. NASA/ESA/L. Roth/SWRI/University of Cologne

However, subsequent efforts failed to find any repeat evidence, until now. The latest evidence was obtained with an enterprising new technique, using Jupiter as a light source to reveal plumes as Europa passes across its face. The Hubble Space Telescope was used to collect ultraviolet images during ten transits of Europa across Jupiter in 2014, which on three occasions revealed plumes erupting above the edge of Europa's disc. This shows that the plumes are intermittent.

The plumes of Europa seen as it passed across the face of Jupiter on three dates in 2014. NASA

However, sometimes three or four distinct plumes can be made out, and given that the technique can see only those plumes erupting near the visible edge of the disc, there may be many more undetectable plumes in front of or behind the disc.

Hopefully it won't be too long before a mission designed to detect microbial life from the plumes of Europa or Enceladus sets off to find out. It certainly seems like a worthwhile endeavour - especially after the emergence of this latest evidence.

The ConversationDavid Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

>>>>> Scroll down to view and make comments <<<<<<

Click here for Historical News Post Listing

Make a Comment

Econintersect wants your comments, data and opinion on the articles posted.  As the internet is a "war zone" of trolls, hackers and spammers - Econintersect must balance its defences against ease of commenting.  We have joined with Livefyre to manage our comment streams.

To comment, using Livefyre just click the "Sign In" button at the top-left corner of the comment box below. You can create a commenting account using your favorite social network such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Open ID - or open a Livefyre account using your email address.

You can also comment using Facebook directly using he comment block below.

Econintersect Contributors


Print this page or create a PDF file of this page
Print Friendly and PDF

The growing use of ad blocking software is creating a shortfall in covering our fixed expenses. Please consider a donation to Econintersect to allow continuing output of quality and balanced financial and economic news and analysis.

Take a look at what is going on inside of
Main Home
Analysis Blog
Comments on Feyerabend’s ‘Against Method’, Part III
Taking a Wrench to Healthcare
News Blog
September 2016 New Home Sales Improve.
Higher GDP Growth In The Long Run Requires Higher Productivity Growth
Quantum Encryption Is Secure Because Information Encoded In A Quantum Particle Is Destroyed As Soon As It Is Measured
The Stock Market Is Up, But Mutual Fund Investors Are Fleeing
Infographic Of The Day: Google's Hidden Games
Early Headlines: Asia Srocks Mostly Lower, Energy HY Bonds Surge, Google Fiber Cutback, Shadow Banks Dominate Mortgages, NATO Crowds Russia, Coffee Surges And More
Top 10 American Misconceptions about China (Version 3)
Documentary Of The Week: Job Buffers Are More Efficient Than Unemployment Buffers
Typing Is The New Talking
Outsourcing Viewed As The Top Threat To U.S. Jobs
SOS, Extra Savings Needed For An Adequate Pension
Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize - And What Really Defines Literature
What We Read Today 25 October 2016
Investing Blog
This Or That? Technical Report 25 October 2016
Opinion Blog
What Triggers Collapse?
The Beer Goggles Stock Market
Precious Metals Blog
Inflation Surging As Platinum Signals Stock Market Decline
Live Markets
26Oct2016 Pre-Market Commentary: US Stock Markets Opened Lower As Apple Takes Center Stage Falling 3%, Market Indicators Remain In No Mans Land, Many Investors Sitting On Hands Awaiting Possible Fed Rate Change On Friday
Amazon Books & More

.... and keep up with economic news using our dynamic economic newspapers with the largest international coverage on the internet
Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

Crowdfunding ....



Analysis Blog
News Blog
Investing Blog
Opinion Blog
Precious Metals Blog
Markets Blog
Video of the Day


Asia / Pacific
Middle East / Africa
USA Government

RSS Feeds / Social Media

Combined Econintersect Feed

Free Newsletter

Marketplace - Books & More

Economic Forecast

Content Contribution



  Top Economics Site Contributor TalkMarkets Contributor Finance Blogs Free PageRank Checker Active Search Results Google+

This Web Page by Steven Hansen ---- Copyright 2010 - 2016 Econintersect LLC - all rights reserved