Scientists have new evidence that there are plumes of water erupting from the surface of Jupiter's icy moon Europa — plumes that could, maybe, possibly contain signs of life.
The evidence comes from data collected by the now-defunct Galileo spacecraft. Although the data has been available since it was collected in 1997, it's only now that an analysis confirms the existence of water plumes.
For more than two decades, scientists have been convinced Europa has a liquid water ocean sloshing around beneath its icy outer crust. In the past six years, two teams of researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope reported the possible existence of plumes. But as powerful as Hubble is, seeing something as small as a plume on a moon more than 380-million miles away is difficult.
"We're looking for effects that are relatively small, and are pushing the spatial resolution of the telescope," says astrophysicist Susana Deutsua of the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Nonetheless, it made sense that Europa had plumes, since the Cassini spacecraft had definitely seen water plumes from Enceladus, an icy moon orbiting Saturn that's similar to Europa.