Nav: Home

Study co-authored by UCLA scientists shows evidence of water vapor plumes on Jupiter moon

May 17, 2018

Using new modeling techniques to analyze data gathered in 1997 by the NASA Galileo spacecraft, astronomers have discovered surprising new details about one of Jupiter's moons.

A paper published in Nature Astronomy offers the clearest evidence to date that there are "plumes" -- eruptions of water vapor -- venting from the surface of on an icy moon called Europa. Two UCLA scientists are co-authors of the study: Margaret Kivelson, a space physicist and planetary scientist who is a professor emerita, and researcher Krishan Khurana.

Space scientists have long been interested in Europa because there is evidence to suggest that a vast ocean -- like the ones on Earth -- lies beneath its icy outer shell. The new research provides further support for the possibility of such an ocean, as well as evidence that there are the types of energy sources in the moon's interior that would be required if life were to develop on the moon.

In the 1990s, Kivelson led the team that designed and built the device on Galileo that recorded magnetic field signatures. Because magnetic fields are generated by flowing currents, measuring the magnetic fields provides information about where they come from, which in turn suggests information about the characteristics of the moon itself.

Galileo collected data from as close as 124 miles above Europa's surface, but at the time, mission scientists didn't think to look for plumes. Over the next few years, though, new data from a separate NASA mission -- the Cassini spacecraft's study of Saturn and its moons -- led Kivelson and her colleagues to suspect that there was more to be learned by analyzing the measurements Galileo had made near Europa.

In early 2017, Kivelson, Khurana and Xianzhe Jia -- a University of Michigan space physicist who earned his doctorate at UCLA -- attended a NASA presentation about the agency's planned Europa Clipper mission, which is scheduled for a launch in the early 2020s. The researchers examined the information gathered during the 1997 flyby and, indeed, the high-resolution magnetometer data showed something strange.

Drawing on what scientists had learned from the exploration of plumes on Saturn's moon Enceladus by NASA's Cassini mission, Jia focused on an anomaly that had never been explained, and then applied it as strong evidence of plumes.

In addition to Kivelson's magnetometer, Galileo also carried a powerful plasma wave spectrometer to measure plasma waves caused by charged particles in gases around Europa's atmosphere. For the new study, scientists layered data from the magnetometer and spectrometer into 3D modeling software, and then incorporated models based on data from remote observations of Europa by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope between 2014 and 2017.

"The data were there, but we needed sophisticated modeling to make sense of the observation," Jia said.

The new findings bolster the potential for discovery of more plumes by the Europa Clipper mission, which is intended to explore the moon's habitability. Jia, Kivelson and Khurana are members of the research teams for two of the instruments aboard Europa Clipper that will measure the moon's magnetic and plasma environments.

"If plumes exist, and we can directly sample what's coming from the interior of Europa, then we can more easily get at whether Europa has the ingredients for life," said Robert Pappalardo, the project scientist for Europa Clipper at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "That's what the mission is after. That's the big picture."

Kivelson, who in 2017 received the Gerard P. Kuiper Prize for outstanding contributions to planetary science from the American Astronomical Society, said the upcoming mission should reveal a wealth of new insights about the moon.

"Although Galileo discovered an ocean at Europa, we know little about its properties," she said. "The Europa Clipper mission will tell us lots about the ocean, such as its depth, the thickness of the ice layer that hides it, and its electrical properties."
-end-


University of California - Los Angeles

Related Hubble Space Telescope Articles:

New way to weigh a white dwarf: Use Hubble Space Telescope
For the first time, astronomers have used a novel method to determine the mass of a type of star known as a 'white dwarf' -- the shrunken corpse of a dead star that used to be like our sun.
NASA's James Webb space telescope completes acoustic and vibration tests
At NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland the James Webb Space Telescope team completed the acoustic and vibration portions of environmental testing on the telescope.
Probing seven worlds with NASA's James Webb Space Telescope
With the discovery of seven earth-sized planets around the TRAPPIST-1 star 40 light years away, astronomers are looking to the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to help us find out if any of these planets could possibly support life.
NASA restarts rigorous vibration testing on the James Webb Space Telescope
Testing on the James Webb Space Telescope successfully resumed last week at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md.
Robot would assemble modular telescope -- in space
A new concept in space telescope design uses a modular structure and an assembly robot to build an extremely large telescope in space, performing tasks in which astronaut fatigue would be a problem.
Science instruments of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope successfully installed
With surgical precision, two dozen engineers and technicians successfully installed the package of science instruments of the James Webb Space Telescope into the telescope structure.
James Webb Space Telescope's golden mirror unveiled
NASA engineers recently unveiled the giant golden mirror of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope as part of the integration and testing of the infrared telescope.
Earth-space telescope system produces hot surprise
Combining an orbiting radio telescope with telescopes on Earth made a system capable of the highest resolution of any observation ever made in astronomy.
NASA marks major milestones for the James Webb Space Telescope
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope just got a little closer to launch with the completion of cryogenic testing on its science cameras and spectrographs and the installation of the final flight mirrors.
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope secondary mirror installed
The sole secondary mirror that will fly aboard NASA's James Webb Space Telescope was installed onto the telescope at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, on March 3, 2016.

Related Hubble Space Telescope Reading:

The Hubble Cosmos: 25 Years of New Vistas in Space
by David H. Devorkin (Author), Robert W. Smith (Author), Robert P. Kirshner (Foreword)

Hubble's Universe: Greatest Discoveries and Latest Images
by Terence Dickinson (Author)

The Hubble Space Telescope: From Concept to Success (Springer Praxis Books)
by David J. Shayler (Author), David M. Harland (Author)

NASA Hubble Space Telescope - 1990 onwards (including all upgrades): An insight into the history, development, collaboration, construction and role of ... space telescope (Owners' Workshop Manual)
by David Baker (Author)

Hubble: Imaging Space and Time
by David H. Devorkin (Author), Robert Smith (Author)

Hubble Space Telescope 2018 12 x 12 Inch Monthly Square Wall Calendar by Wyman, Science Space Technology NASA
by Wyman (Author), BrownTrout Publishers (Author)

Hubble Space Telescope 2019 12 x 12 Inch Monthly Square Wall Calendar by Wyman, Science Space Technology
by Inc. BrownTrout Publishers (Author)

The Hubble Space Telescope (Space Tech)
by Blake Hoena (Author)

Hubble Space Telescope: New Views of the Universe
by Mark Voit (Author)

Our Amazing Universe -- through the lens of the historic Hubble Space Telescope: “All About This & That” Picture Book Series for Children (Volume 2)
by Adrian D. Robbe (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Hacking The Law
We have a vision of justice as blind, impartial, and fair — but in reality, the law often fails those who need it most. This hour, TED speakers explore radical ways to change the legal system. Guests include lawyer and social justice advocate Robin Steinberg, animal rights lawyer Steven Wise, political activist Brett Hennig, and lawyer and social entrepreneur Vivek Maru.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#495 Earth Science in Space
Some worlds are made of sand. Some are made of water. Some are even made of salt. In science fiction and fantasy, planet can be made of whatever you want. But what does that mean for how the planets themselves work? When in doubt, throw an asteroid at it. This is a live show recorded at the 2018 Dragon Con in Atlanta Georgia. Featuring Travor Valle, Mika McKinnon, David Moscato, Scott Harris, and moderated by our own Bethany Brookshire. Note: The sound isn't as good as we'd hoped but we love the guests and the conversation and we wanted to...