Europa, the fourth largest moon of Jupiter, is a place of interest for many. Europa is believed to have a massive subsurface ocean, and back in the fall of 2016, it was announced that the Hubble Telescope had spotted what may have been water plumes erupting from its surface, as NASA described at the time.
Though the discovery of the potential plumes was not announced until more than two years later, they were originally found in March of 2014, according to Space. A different team of scientists, who also used the Hubble Telescope, discovered potential plumes in 2012.
On Thursday, April 13, during NASA’s press conference on recent discoveries about ocean worlds, it was announced that the Hubble Telescope might have again spotted potential water plumes erupting from Europa. According to Space, NASA announced that the Hubble Telescope spotted “a 62-mile-high” potential plume erupting from Europa in February of 2016.
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) April 13, 2017
Space describes these findings as “highly suggestive,” and scientists are not yet ready to confirm them as actual plumes just yet. However, Space also points out that William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, who also led the team that made the earlier discovery that was announced in the fall of 2016, implied that the new findings should increase the hopes of the plumes, in fact, turning out to be real.
“It’s not completely unequivocal, but in my mind, the pendulum has swung from caution to optimism.”
Per Space, the possible plumes were spotted close to the equator of Europa, the same vicinity in which the previous discovery was made. The detection of potential water plumes on Europa is quite significant. It could provide another way to inspect its theorized ocean without having to find a way to have a craft drill into the moon’s icy shell, as Geoff Yoder of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate explained in the NASA statement back in September.
“These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa’s subsurface.”
— Nerdist (@nerdist) April 13, 2017
During the same press conference, NASA also announced interesting findings of Enceladus, a moon of Saturn that has also been categorized as another ocean world. Like Europa, Enceladus is also thought to have an ocean beneath its icy shell. As the Inquisitr has previously reported, the Cassini spacecraft, which has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004, detected as possible “energy source” on Enceladus. The Cassini mission will come to an end this September, as it is scheduled to crash into Saturn.
— NASA (@NASA) April 13, 2017
NASA is currently planning a flyby mission to Europa, which is hoped will take place sometime in the 2020s. The upcoming endeavor has been dubbed the “Europa Clipper mission,” as Space describes, and it is expected to perform “40 to 45 flybys” of the moon throughout the span of multiple years.
According to Space, if the plumes turn out to be real, it could also have an impact on how the Europa Clipper mission is conducted. It is described how the spacecraft will search for the plumes and even “fly through them,” if it does, in fact, turn out to be a real possibility, which is also discussed in a new NASA statement.
As the Inquisitr has also recently reported, NASA’s Science Definition Team (SDT) has also laid out a plan for potentially sending a lander to the Jovian moon as well. The lander mission is not yet a sure thing, but there is hope that it could happen as soon as 2031.
[Featured Image by janez volmajer/Shutterstock]