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NASA Space Moon News Science Technology

Jupiter's Moon Europa May Have Water Plumes That Rise Up About 125 Miles (npr.org) 96

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope released new images Monday, which will be published in The Astrophysicial Journal later this week, that show what appears to be plumes of water vapor erupting out of the icy surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. The discovery is especially intriguing as it means that the ocean below Europa's surface could be probed without having to drill through miles of ice. NPR reports: Europa is one of the most intriguing places in the solar system because it's thought to have a vast subterranean ocean with twice as much water as Earth's oceans. This saltwater ocean is a tempting target for astrobiologists who want to find places beyond Earth that could support life. The trouble with exploring this ocean is that the water is hidden beneath an icy crust that's miles thick. But if plumes are indeed erupting from Europa, a spacecraft could potentially fly through them and analyze their chemistry -- much like NASA's Cassini probe did recently when it sped close to Enceladus, a moon of Saturn that has small geysers. Scientists used Hubble to watch Europa's silhouette as the moon moved across Jupiter's bright background. They looked, in ultraviolet light, for signs of plumes coming from the moon's surface. They did this 10 separate times over a period of 15 months, and saw what could be plumes on three occasions. NASA says the plumes are estimated to rise up about 125 miles, and presumably material then rains back down onto Europa's surface. Using Hubble in a different way, scientists previously saw hints that salty water occasionally travels up to the moon's surface. In 2012, the telescope detected evidence of water vapor above Europa's south polar region, suggesting the existence of plumes that shoot out into space. The agency's Juno spacecraft is currently in orbit around Jupiter, but it isn't slated to take any observations of Europa.
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Jupiter's Moon Europa May Have Water Plumes That Rise Up About 125 Miles

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  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @06:05AM (#52968229) Homepage Journal

    Big black rock be damned, let's just land there and make the aliens pay for it!

  • Which would instantly freeze as soon as it hits the cold vacuum there.

    • I was going to say it could still be liquid if the salt concentration was high enough, but even at 30% concentration, the freezing point is between -20 and -30 C.

      But in a vacuum, water tends to boil, not freeze.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I was going to say it could still be liquid if the salt concentration was high enough, but even at 30% concentration, the freezing point is between -20 and -30 C.

        But in a vacuum, water tends to boil, not freeze.

        So it could boil and freeze simultaneously? :-)

    • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @08:48AM (#52968799)
      They has something about this on the radio. Evidently all that has been detected is oxygen and hydrogen, which they assume is from the decomposition of water
    • by sc7007 ( 26649 )

      When water hits a vacuum, pressure drops far enough that it boils, not freezes.

    • Isn't vacuum always cold? I fail to see how it could have a temperature above 0K. I got cooled to absolute zero, but I'm 0K now.
      • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @10:51AM (#52969489) Homepage

        Isn't vacuum always cold? I fail to see how it could have a temperature above 0K.

        Vacuum in itself has no temperature at all. "No temperature" is not the same as 0 Kelvin.

        The temperature of something IN a vacuum is determined by the sources heating it and the infrared radiation outward from it. Initially, water exposed to vacuum will start to boil; the boiling will reduce the temperature (losing the heat of vaporization), and the lower temperature will freeze the water. So, in fact, it will boil and freeze at the same time, resulting in ice particles AND an expanding cloud of water vapor.

        I got cooled to absolute zero, but I'm 0K now.

        Cute.

      • Nowhere in the universe is 0 K. Interstellar space is 2.7 K.

      • No, vacuum isn't always cold.

        The solar corona is, by all terrestrial measures, a really hard vacuum, and emits a radiation with a black-body equivalent temperature up in the order of a million degrees (Kelvin, or Celsius, it doesn't much matter). The heat capacity on the other hand, is pretty low, due to the density being pretty low.

        I got cooled to absolute zero, but I'm 0K now.

        You absorbed that one at your mother's tit, I guess. It's old enough ti have lichen on it. The joke, that is.

  • by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @07:38AM (#52968539)

    In 2012, the telescope detected evidence of water vapor above Europa's south polar region, suggesting the existence of plumes that shoot out into space. The agency's Juno spacecraft is currently in orbit around Jupiter, but it isn't slated to take any observations of Europa.

    WTH?

    • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 )

      Do you have a problem with English and/or logic? The quoted sentences make perfect sense. Which may be exceptional for Slashdot, but not really deserving of a WTH.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Juno was launched before this discovery, and it is in a highly elliptical polar orbit that keeps it far away from any of the Jovian moons. Even if they wanted to completely scrap the rest of the science scheduled for Juno they don't have the option to modify its orbit enough to actually make a fly-by.

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      Juno is a Jupiter mission, so it's not a surprise that it's not doing much science with Europa.
    • It also seems like we'll never get to see Juno imaging of the clouds either. Been a month and we have only that one shot of the pole.
  • Miles... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @08:26AM (#52968697) Homepage

    Jupiter's Moon Europa May Have Water Plumes That Rise Up About 125 Miles

    Ugh. I know the country that made the telescope that saw the plumes still insists on using miles, but can't we at least agree to outlaw imperial measurements for anything to do with space?

    Especially spacecraft design and fuelling...

    • Re:Miles... (Score:5, Funny)

      by stealth_finger ( 1809752 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @08:47AM (#52968795)

      Jupiter's Moon Europa May Have Water Plumes That Rise Up About 125 Miles

      Ugh. I know the country that made the telescope that saw the plumes still insists on using miles, but can't we at least agree to outlaw imperial measurements for anything to do with space?

      Especially spacecraft design and fuelling...

      Jupiter's Moon Europa May Have Water Plumes That Rise Up About 1.34473e-6 AU.

      Better?

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      And orbit coordinates

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      can't we at least agree to outlaw imperial measurements for anything to do with space?

      Screw your commie system, God save the Queen!

      10 is a dumb base anyhow, not divisible by 3 or 4. The first tetrapods who crawled onto land had mathematically defective digits. They should have been BBQ'd and placed between bread instead.

    • You can complain when you start using metric time.
  • Don't (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @08:58AM (#52968837)

    We have already been warned!

    All these worlds
    Are yours except
    Europa
    Attempt no
    Landing there

  • Nice finding, but not the big thing that NASA had been hinting at. They seem to do such thing distressingly often. Soon, nobody will take their press releases seriously - you can only cry wolf so many times.
  • by Maritz ( 1829006 ) on Tuesday September 27, 2016 @09:06AM (#52968891)

    1. It would mean that the subsurface ocean at Europa is connected to the surface - this makes the possibility of life below more likely, as chemicals/nutrients could be ionized at the surface and cycled through to the ocean below

    2. It would mean that we could look for signs of life at Europa just by sending a probe into its orbit and collecting material from the geysers

    An interesting discovery if true - Europa has a larger volume of water than Earth's oceans, and has been stable for billions of years. If there's nothing particular special about conditions on Earth, it's reasonable to expect life of some kind on Europa.

    The JUICE mission is probably going to spend its time on the wrong objects in the Jovian system.

  • Now we're going to see twice as much of that terrible meme "they found water on Mars but they can't fix the water problem on earth"

  • So instead of melting our own hole to Europa's ocean, we use on of these plume holes.

    For simplicity sake, let's say the hole is perfectly smooth, no jiggered edges.
    How the F*** do you go against that kind of pressure?
    If the plume of water/slush ice is 100+ miles high, imagine the PSI!
    You'd need something like a diving bell that stop the plume from spewing so that you can go down the hole.

    • Imagine the PSI 100 miles up after being slowed by wind resistance, gravity, etc. You just fly by in low orbit and pick some up.

    • by NotAPK ( 4529127 )

      "So instead of melting our own hole to Europa's ocean"

      This is actually almost impossible to do. The energy required to melt the ice is extraordinary, plus you still have to pump the water out without it refreezing. Drilling is less energy intensive, but again you need antifreezes and lubricants and these all run the risk of polluting the very environment you are trying to sample.

      Read about the difficulty of drilling to Lake Vostok [wikipedia.org] in Antartica and you'll appreciate that there is no way we're going to do thi

    • You don't use the holes to get something inside.

      You analyze the stuff that gets out instead ...

    • If the plume of water/slush ice is 100+ miles high, imagine the PSI!

      Don't imagine. Calculate!

      The surface gravity of Europa is [what] factor lower than that of Earth - where you've learned your reflexes.

      Then you need to look at the spread of the plumes - which will giv you the ratio of the against-gravity velocity versus the expansion from diffusion of vapour.

      Are you a mystic, or a scientist?

      Wikipedia gives me the surface gravity as 0.13 g - less than 1 part in 7 of what you'd need on Earth (in nozzle ps

  • This should greatly simplify the task of getting samples from under the surface.
    Granted, it's still a matter of timing, but flying through a plume of water 125 mi high and taking samples has got to be easier than landing and taking them.

    Hell, with a flyby, it might even be possible to grab some and bring it physically back to earth.

  • Weren't we warned about landing on Europa?

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