• A new look at old data is giving scientists a fresh reason to view Europa, a moon of Jupiter, as a leading candidate in the search for life beyond Earth, with evidence of water plumes shooting into space.
  • A bend in Europa’s magnetic field observed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft during a 1997 flyby appears to have been caused by a geyser gushing through its frozen crust from a subsurface ocean, researchers who reexamined the Galileo data reported.
  • Galileo was passing some 124 miles (200 kilometers) above Europa’s surface when it apparently flew through the plume.
  • Europa has a lot of the ingredients necessary for life, certainly for life as we know it.
  • There’s water. There’s energy. There’s some amount of carbon material. But the habitability of Europa is one of the big questions that we want to understand.
  • And one of the really exciting things about detection of a plume is that that means there may be ways that the material from the ocean — which is likely the most habitable part of Europa because it’s warmer and it’s protected from the radiation environment by the ice shell — to come out above the ice shell.

Tell us about the Europa Clipper mission

  • NASA will get a close-up look from a new spacecraft during its Europa Clipper mission that could launch as soon as June 2022, providing a possible opportunity to sample plumes for signs of life, perhaps microbial, from its ocean.
  • Europa is considered among the prime candidates for life in our solar system, but is not the only one.
  • For example, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft sampled plumes from Saturn’s ocean-bearing moon Enceladus that contained hydrogen from hydrothermal vents, an environment that may have given rise to life on Earth.
  • A bit smaller that Earth’s moon, Europa’s ocean resides under an ice layer 10 to 15 miles (15 to 25 km) thick, with an estimated depth of 40 to 100 miles (60 to 150 km).