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Posts Tagged ‘Europa’

NASA’s Europa Mission Begins With Selection Of Science Instruments


Bizarre features on Europa’s icy surface. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Bizarre features on Europa’s icy surface. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has selected nine science instruments for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, to investigate whether the mysterious icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.

NASA’s Galileo mission yielded strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath a frozen crust of unknown thickness. If proven to exist, this global ocean could have more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet.

“Europa has tantalized us with its enigmatic icy surface and evidence of a vast ocean, following the amazing data from 11 flybys of the Galileo spacecraft over a decade ago and recent Hubble observations suggesting plumes of water shooting out from the moon,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We’re excited about the potential of this new mission and these instruments to unravel the mysteries of Europa in our quest to find evidence of life beyond Earth.”

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NASA Research Reveals Europa’s Mystery Dark Material Could Be Sea Salt


 Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA laboratory experiments suggest the dark material coating some geological features of Jupiter’s moon Europa is likely sea salt from a subsurface ocean, discolored by exposure to radiation. The presence of sea salt on Europa’s surface suggests the ocean is interacting with its rocky seafloor — an important consideration in determining whether the icy moon could support life.

The study is accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and is available online.

“We have many questions about Europa, the most important and most difficult to answer being is there life? Research like this is important because it focuses on questions we can definitively answer, like whether or not Europa is inhabitable,” said Curt Niebur, Outer Planets Program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Once we have those answers, we can tackle the bigger question about life in the ocean beneath Europa’s ice shell.”

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Signs Of Europa Plumes Remain Elusive In Search Of Cassini Data

December 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

A fresh look at data collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during its 2001 flyby of Jupiter shows that Europa’s tenuous atmosphere is even thinner than previously thought and also suggests that the thin, hot gas around the moon does not show evidence of plume activity occurring at the time of the flyby. The new research provides a snapshot of Europa’s state of activity at that time, and suggests that if there is plume activity, it is likely intermittent.

The Europa results are being presented today at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco and published in the Astrophysical Journal. Europa is considered one of the most exciting destinations in the solar system for future exploration because it shows strong indications of having an ocean beneath its icy crust.

Members of Cassini’s ultraviolet imaging spectrograph (UVIS) team analyzed data collected by their instrument during the brief time it observed Europa in 2001, as Cassini sped through the Jupiter system en route to Saturn. The observations show that most of the hot, excited gas, or plasma, around Europa originates not from the moon itself, but from volcanoes on the nearby moon Io. In fact, from their data, the researchers calculated that Europa contributes 40 times less oxygen than previously thought to its surrounding environment.

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Hubble Discovers Water Vapour Venting From Jupiter’s Moon Europa

December 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Water vapour plumes on Jupiter's moon Europa (artist's impression). Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. Roth (Southwest Research Institute, USA/University of Cologne, Germany) and M. Kornmesser

Water vapour plumes on Jupiter’s moon Europa (artist’s impression). Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. Roth (Southwest Research Institute, USA/University of Cologne, Germany) and M. Kornmesser

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has discovered water vapour erupting from the frigid surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa, in one or more localised plumes near its south pole.

Europa is already thought to harbour a liquid ocean beneath its icy crust, making the moon one of the main targets in the search for habitable worlds away from Earth. This new finding is the first observational evidence of water vapour being ejected off the moon’s surface.

“The discovery that water vapour is ejected near the south pole strengthens Europa’s position as the top candidate for potential habitability,” said lead author Lorenz Roth of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. “However, we do not know yet if these plumes are connected to subsurface liquid water or not.” The Hubble findings will be published in the 12 December online issue of Science Express, and are being reported today at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California, USA.

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Clay-Like Minerals Found On Icy Crust Of Europa

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI

A new analysis of data from NASA’s Galileo mission has revealed clay-type minerals at the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa that appear to have been delivered by a spectacular collision with an asteroid or comet. This is the first time such minerals have been detected on Europa’s surface. The types of space rocks that deliver such minerals typically also often carry organic materials.

“Organic materials, which are important building blocks for life, are often found in comets and primitive asteroids,” said Jim Shirley, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Shirley is giving a talk on this topic at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on Friday, Dec. 13. “Finding the rocky residues of this comet crash on Europa’s surface may open up a new chapter in the story of the search for life on Europa,” he said.

Many scientists believe Europa is the best location in our solar system to find existing life. It has a subsurface ocean in contact with rock, an icy surface that mixes with the ocean below, salts on the surface that create an energy gradient, and a source of heat (the flexing that occurs as it gets stretched and squeezed by Jupiter’s gravity). Those conditions were likely in place shortly after Europa first coalesced in our solar system.

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Where Are The Best Windows Into Europa’s Interior?


The surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa exposes material churned up from inside the moon and also material resulting from matter and energy coming from above. If you want to learn about the deep saltwater ocean beneath this unusual world’s icy shell — as many people do who are interested in possible extraterrestrial life — you might target your investigation of the surface somewhere that has more of the up-from-below stuff and less of the down-from-above stuff.

New analysis of observations made more than a decade ago by NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter helps identify those places.

“We have found the regions where charged electrons and ions striking the surface would have done the most, and the least, chemical processing of materials emplaced at the surface from the interior ocean,” said J. Brad Dalton of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., lead author of the report published recently in the journal Planetary and Space Science. “That tells us where to look for materials representing the most pristine ocean composition, which would be the best places to target with a lander or study with an orbiter.”

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-134

Mapping The Chemistry Needed For Life At Europa


A new paper led by a NASA researcher shows that hydrogen peroxide is abundant across much of the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The authors argue that if the peroxide on the surface of Europa mixes into the ocean below, it could be an important energy supply for simple forms of life, if life were to exist there. The paper was published online recently in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“Life as we know it needs liquid water, elements like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur, and it needs some form of chemical or light energy to get the business of life done,” said Kevin Hand, the paper’s lead author, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “Europa has the liquid water and elements, and we think that compounds like peroxide might be an important part of the energy requirement. The availability of oxidants like peroxide on Earth was a critical part of the rise of complex, multicellular life.”

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-126

Astronomers Open Window Into Europa’s Ocean


Artist's concept. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s concept. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With data collected from the mighty W. M. Keck Observatory, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) astronomer Mike Brown — known as the Pluto killer for discovering a Kuiper-belt object that led to the demotion of Pluto from planetary status — and Kevin Hand from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have found the strongest evidence yet that salty water from the vast liquid ocean beneath Europa’s frozen exterior actually makes its way to the surface.

The data suggests there is a chemical exchange between the ocean and surface, making the ocean a richer chemical environment, and implies that learning more about the ocean could be as simple as analyzing the moon’s surface. The work is described in a paper that has been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal.

The findings were derived from spectroscopy delivered from the Keck Observatory, which operates the largest and most scientifically productive telescopes on Earth.

“We now have the best spectrum of this thing in the world,” Brown says. “Nobody knew there was this little dip in the spectrum because no one had the resolution to zoom in on it before.”

Full Story: http://keckobservatory.org/news/keck_observatory_helps_open_window_into_europas_ocean
Also: http://www.caltech.edu/content/window-europas-ocean-lies-right-surface

Scientists Find Evidence for Subsurface ‘Great Lake’ on Europa

November 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/Ted Stryk

Image Credit: NASA/Ted Stryk

In a finding of significance in the search for life beyond Earth, scientists have discovered what appears to be a body of liquid water the volume of the North American Great Lakes locked inside the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa—which could represent a new potential habitat for life.

Many more such lakes exist throughout the shallow regions of Europa’s shell, the researchers predict in an online article for the journal Nature. Further increasing the potential for life, many of these lakes are covered by floating ice shelves that seem to be collapsing, providing a mechanism for transferring nutrients and energy between the surface and a vast ocean already thought to exist below the thick ice shell.

“The potential for exchange of material between the surface and subsurface is a big key for astrobiology,” says Wes Patterson, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and a co-author of the study. “Europa’s subsurface harbors much of what we believe is necessary for life but chemical nutrients found at the surface are likely vital for driving biology.”

Full Story: http://www.jhuapl.edu/newscenter/pressreleases/2011/111116.asp