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Re-examined Evidence Points To Water On Europa

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Re-examined Evidence Points To Water On Europa

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

Danielle Perea, Staff Writer

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   For a long time many have wondered: is there life beyond our own planet? Before that question can be answered, another one must be asked: could there be life beyond our planet? Before we look for life, we have to look for water first. Europa, one of Jupiter’s four Galilean moons, is a possible candidate for life in our solar system due to its presence of subsurface liquid water under a thick layer of ice.

  Scientists have known for years that Europa has water under its icy crust, but because of the thickness of the ice, drilling far enough down to reach the water would be difficult.

 A group of researchers found evidence from the 1990s of a plume of water coming from Europa. Xianzhe Jia, a space physicist at the University of Michigan, realized after a presentation on Hubble observations of Europa by Melissa McGrath of the SETI Institute, that a location she mentioned was a location that NASA’s Galileo spacecraft did a flyby of in 1997.

  This realization led Jia and his team to re-examine the information from the spacecraft. They found that the data from that location of Europa had similar characteristics to data from an earlier flyby by NASA’s Cassini, which flew through water plumes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

  A jet of water coming from cracks in the moon’s ice could make collecting some of Europa’s water easier. Instead of drilling to the moon’s ocean, the water could be sampled by flying through the plume. Then, scientists will be able to analyze the water for the necessary ingredients for life.

  This latest discovery is not a definite answer to our search for extraterrestrial life, but it could be a step forward.

  Mrs. Chambers, the astrobiology teacher at West, felt that even if the discovery of more solid evidence of jets of water on Europa might not be the biggest discovery in science, it is still exciting.

   She explained, “[This discovery] adds to the way we understand our solar system, it opens up new questions that we can ask about the place we call home, and it strengthens the possibility that there might be life on a moon around Jupiter.”

  Lili Georges (12), who is taking astrobiology, feels that these new findings could be very important. She said, “Discoveries like the water plumes on Europa show us that space is more diverse than we think, and that we would be selfish to give up on the quest for life elsewhere.”

  The Europa Clipper mission will be a next step in the search for life beyond Earth, and will sail near the moon to collect samples of water from plumes for scientists to analyze. The mission could be launched as early as 2022.

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Danielle Perea, Staff Writer

Danielle Perea is a Staff Writer for Smoke Signals. She enjoys music, playing the tenor saxophone, and chillin with her homie (her pet guinea pig.)

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Re-examined Evidence Points To Water On Europa