But if Europa is venting the contents of its ocean or subsurface lakes into space, researchers may be able to study the plumes to search for organic molecules. If life has gained what passes for a foothold on Europa, it may be huddled around hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean in a world of frigid, perpetual night.
Europa is slightly smaller than Earth's moon in terms of size, but researchers have theorized for years that the satellite could hold twice as much water as what's found on Earth.
Life as we know it requires liquid water, so any discovery of liquid water in the solar system opens the potential for finding other life, though the expectation in our neighborhood is that it is microbial, not intelligent. Morgan Cable, an astrochemist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Scientific American "up until this paper, I was very skeptical the plume existed".
"When we look at those data carefully, what we found is there's some unusual magnetic signals in those data that have never been explained before", Jai says. These changes were all consistent with computer models that showed how the plumes Hubble saw should have been affecting the environment around the planet.
Jia was inspired by the Hubble detections to look back at the Galileo flyby data. "It's possible to find things in those data you didn't initially expect", says William Kurth, an astrophysicist at The University of Iowa and co-author of the study.
It was in that closest flyby that information was sought and studied. But he's not the only one thrilled by the new finding. So, Galileo most likely flew through the middle of the plume for about three minutes. The magnetic detectors recorded a kink in the magnetic field and the on-board plasma wave spectrometer picked up increased levels of ionized particles.
Scientists thought that they may have been able to find data about water plume in Galileo's data.
Recently, evidence has been building that Europa may have a plume as well.
Galileo came much closer during its 11 flybys of Europa. But he remarked that the specific reason why this plume-producing area of Europa seems to be warmer than other areas of the moon isn't well known. Turtle explained the plumes as quite tenuous, but maybe not "optically thick" Additionally like Cassini, the spacecraft is expected to take a look at sunlight through plumes in an assortment of wavelengths with an infrared spectrograph and thermal imager to describe the pollutants and pollutants which contain them.
The case for a giant plume of water vapor wafting from Jupiter's potentially life-supporting moon Europa just got a lot stronger.
But it wasn't until past year, at a conference for boffins planning the Europa Clipper spacecraft that's due to head out to the mysterious moon in 2022, that Xianzhe Jia, a space physicist at the University of MI put the pieces together and made a decision to revisit the Galileo data.
One ardent supporter of a mission to Europa, Texas Congressman John Culberson, broke the embargo on this news last week during a Congressional hearing on NASA's budget.
Prof. Margaret Kivelson of the University of California and leader of the "Galileo magnetometer team", said that the substance that is oozing out from the surface of Europa is perhaps electrically neutral and is influenced by moisture.
But the sensitivity of telescopic data is limited, and more was needed to be sure that these were really plumes, the researchers said.
According to at least one high-powered congressman, the lander's approval is already inevitable.
In those years, the Galileo spacecraft made eleven flybys of Europa, including one which brought it within a few hundred kilometers of the moon's surface.
What won't be discussed, nearly assuredly, is any discovery of aliens or life forms in Europa's oceans.