Nearly 15 years have passed since NASA sent its Galileo spacecraft (launched in 1989)flying into Jupiter’s outer atmosphere to die—eliminating the possibility of contaminating nearby Jovian moons with any traces of Earth bacteria. However, a new study seeking evidence of water plumes on the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa demonstrates that, even now, Galileo is providing valuable information.
The prospect of the water gushing from the moon’s interior has tantalized scientists, as that warm, vast interior ocean is thought to be one of the best places in the Solar System beyond Earth—if not the best—to look for extant life. Since the ice sheet covering Europa is thought to be at least several kilometers thick, being able to sample the ocean from space or the moon’s surface would greatly aid this search.
These findings will help plan future missions to Europa, such as Nasa’s Europa Clipper and ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer spacecraft, both of which are expected to arrive at Jupiter between the late 2020s and early 2030s,’ said a Nature summary.
And, Europa Clipper mission will get an unprecedented look at the surface of Jupiter’s smallest moon, bringing it into better focus than ever before.
‘The closest approach altitudes of the Europa Clipper get down to 25 kilometers,’ Dr Turtle said during the conference. ‘So that’s very close.’