NASA has fresh hope of finding signs of alien life

ImageNASA’s Galileo spacecraft appears to have flown through a plume erupting from Jupiter’s moon Europa more than 20 years

Fifteen years after the NASA probe burned up in Jupiter's atmosphere, newly analyzed magnetic and plasma data from the mission have bolstered evidence that Europa, the planet's ice-bound moon, is likely venting water into space.

In the meantime, evidence that Galileo flew through a plume of water vapor jetting from the interior of Europa has fired imaginations.

Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus are showcasing some of these key ingredients for life in their oceans, which is why researchers believe they are the best chance for finding life beyond Earth in our own solar system.

Now that these plumes have been confirmed, they are regarded to be of great help to the researchers for further studies about the subsurface water body of the Jupiter moon. The most logical explanation is that Galileo flew directly through one of Europa's water vapor plumes on this flyby. Jia and his team took an in-depth look at information the probe gathered during the closest of these encounters - a 1997 flyby that brought Galileo within 128 miles (206 km) of the moon's frigid, fractured surface. But the discovery raises even more questions than it answers-and it may be a while before scientists can answer those questions, since they'll need to wait for a new spacecraft to reach the moon.

Data collected by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in 1997 were put through new and advanced computer models to untangle a mystery - a brief, localized bend in the magnetic field - that had gone unexplained until now. Mike Brown, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology, said in a tweet he is a "big Europa fan", but "so far, all of the evidence for plumes on Europa has been hopeful, rather than truly convincing".

Scientists aren't sure yet how many plumes there are, or how they are spread over Europa's surface, although the one identified Monday is near the moon's equator. The agency is developing a $2 billion Jupiter-orbiting mission called Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in the early to mid-2020s.

Last month researchers found two lakes hidden under thick ice in Canada that could be similar to the conditions found on Jupiter's moon Europa.

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No definitive reason behind the chat has been revealed, other than to discuss the continued intrigue behind Europa harboring some form of alien life. Back in 1997, it's nearly as if researchers didn't know to look for plumes of this sort - or simply did not expect such things. We realized we had to go back.

Then in 2012 the Hubble Space Telescope spotted what looked like plumes of material being ejected from Europa's southern polar region. That makes it one of the most enticing worlds in our solar system where life could be hiding.

The research, headed by University of MI space physicist Xianzhe Jia, was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The potential existence of water captured the interest of scientists as it could mean the moon is able to support life.

Huge fissures in the ice spew its ocean water out into space, kept warm deep under the ice by tidal forces generated by the planet and its host, Jupiter.

"This result makes the plumes seem to be much more real and, for me, is a tipping point".

"We know that Europa has a lot of the ingredients necessary for life, certainly for life as we know it". Xianzhe Jia, the lead author of the study, told Mashable, "This is potentially great news for future exploration of Europa, because spacecraft may have a chance to directly sample materials that are linked to the subsurface ocean".

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