Europa Geysers (credit: Hubble Space Telescope)
Geysers have been confirmed on Jupiter's moon Europa, the remote moon completely encased in ice. Publishing in Nature Astronomy, researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) show evidence of water plumes erupting from Europa's south polar region. The determination was based on data acquired by the Galileo spacecraft on it closest encounter with the moon twenty years ago. The lab confirmed the location, duration, and variations of the probe's measurements to be consistent with plumes with the same characteristics seen previously by the Hubble space telescope in ultraviolet scans of the icy moon. The Hubble images were blurry as they were imaged at the limit of the telescope's ability to see Jupiter's distant moon. NASA considers Europa:
"one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for life".
Europa has long been a high priority for space exploration because the salty, water ocean under the moon's icy crust the Galileo probe previously discovered. NASA is developing the Europa Clipper to launch this decade. The new spacecraft will be equipped with instruments to determine if Europa possesses the ingredients that could support life. The new mission will pass close to the moon multiple times and fly through the plumes at above its icy surface. Advanced tools should determine the chemistry of molecules in the plumes and if they are of a biological or chemical origin.
The original goals for Europa Clipper, still in planning, may have been just expanded by Hubble geyser images. A lander on Europa could be moved to the 'front burner' for JPL development.