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More evidence for water vapor jetting from icy Europa

India May 16(IM): Researchers sifting through data collected by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft during a close flyby of Jupiter’s moon Europa in 1997 have found evidence the probe flew through a water vapour plume spewing from the fractured surface of the icy world. The data are consistent with earlier indications of a plume in pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

“Today’s announcement of yet more evidence of plumes jetting out of Europa are an outstanding leap forward in our search for life and habitable environments in the solar system,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science chief, said after a 5 May news briefing.

“There were hints of plumes in the past from the Hubble Space Telescope and today’s finding … gives us further evidence to sink our scientific teeth into.”

In both cases, the plumes appeared to originate at or near a known “hot spot” on the surface of Europa and likely represent, many believe, salty water making its way up from a vast sub-surface ocean hidden beneath Europa’s icy crust.

Xianzhe Jia, an associate professor at the University of Michigan who led the team that re-assessed the Galileo data, said the location, duration and variations seen in the spacecraft’s magnetometer and plasma wave data are consistent with the presumed plume seen by Hubble.

“These results provide strong independent evidence of the presence of plumes at Europa,” he concluded in a paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

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