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Hubble Discovers Water Plumes Over Europa

samzenpus posted about 4 months ago | from the thar-she-blows dept.

Space 74

astroengine writes "Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have found plumes of water vapor shooting off the southern pole of Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter that is believed to have an underground ocean. If confirmed — so far the plumes have only been spotted once — the finding could have implications for the moon's suitability for life and help explain why its surface appears relatively young and crater-free. "The plumes are incredibly exciting, if they are there. They're bringing up material from in the ocean, perhaps there's organic material that will be laying on the surface of the south pole. Those are the things that we want to know about," James Green, head of NASA's planetary science programs, told reporters at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco on Thursday."

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74 comments

Hmmm (4, Interesting)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 4 months ago | (#45676055)

Presuming these plumes are not one off events, couldn't we send an orbiter there to sample the plumes to at least get some idea of the chemistry of Europa's ocean, if not possibly outright detect signs of life?

Re:Hmmm (2)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 4 months ago | (#45676161)

If there's organic matter on the surface, maybe it's a source of foods?i would be concerned that it would be too high in carbs.

Re:Hmmm (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676201)

Sorry!

All these worlds
are yours except
Europa
Attempt No
Landing there

Re:Hmmm (1)

ackthpt (218170) | about 4 months ago | (#45676237)

Sorry!

All these worlds
are yours except
Europa
Attempt No
Landing there

All we'd find is a bunch of surfing apes.

Re:Hmmm (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 4 months ago | (#45682129)

So, we really DID dig a big trench on the moon and send humans to Jupiter ten years ago?

*shakes head in wonder*

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676335)

Yeah, we could do that, and with an orbiter we'd technically be attempting no landing there!

Re:Hmmm (4, Informative)

erice (13380) | about 4 months ago | (#45676495)

Presuming these plumes are not one off events, couldn't we send an orbiter there to sample the plumes to at least get some idea of the chemistry of Europa's ocean, if not possibly outright detect signs of life?

Yes, and according to the BBC article [bbc.co.uk] NASA researchers hope to do just that. However, Europa Clipper [nasa.gov] is expensive and long way off. They are hoping that a European probe due to launch in 2022 [esa.int] (like that is close) will do the job even though is not intended to go over the poles, which is where the plumes were seen.

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45677945)

Perhaps the US could ask China to kindly run the mission to Europa for the good of mankind. They might just be viewed as worthy of being the future greatest nation on Earth. Nope. Not gonna happen unless the US borrows the money from China first.

Re:Hmmm (4, Insightful)

green is the enemy (3021751) | about 4 months ago | (#45676609)

The radiation environment around Europa most likely breaks apart any complex molecules that came from the ocean. The best possibility is a lander that would dig into the regolith. Unfortunately, looks like the Juno mission will not help even with locating landing spots on Europa. Its camera is too wide-angle.

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45681999)

I don't think the surface of Europa qualifies as regolith. I'd say the best possibility would be a lander that could melt (into) the surface.

We could (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676733)

but the secret space program has already been there long ago, and if we were to release such enlightening information. the concept of allah, baby jesus, and the tooth fairy could shatter people's paradigms about the creation of earth 6000 years ago done by a band of xenu thetans

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45678353)

Presuming these plumes are not one off events, couldn't we send an orbiter there to sample the plumes to at least get some idea of the chemistry of Europa's ocean, if not possibly outright detect signs of life?

I think there are similar plumes in some places on Earth. Couldn't we let ISS sample one of those?

I don't think sampling plumes from an orbiter is reasonable.

Re:Hmmm (1)

Pino Grigio (2232472) | about 4 months ago | (#45678981)

I would think that having liquid water may or may not be a necessary condition for life, but it certainly isn't sufficient. At least for Abiogenesis, I would have thought a vibrant chemical and energy environment, such as that provided by hydrothermal vents from an active core, were far more important within certain ranges. Although it would be exciting and interesting to send subs down there to see what there is, my expectation would be that it's sterile.

No Subject (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676153)

all these worlds
are yours except
europa
attempt no
landing there

What an original joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45690015)

yawn

Meanwhile, SETI has decoded a message . . . (4, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 4 months ago | (#45676171)

. . . "Have Leak! Send Plumber!" . . .

. . . believed to have originated from Europa . . .

Re:Meanwhile, SETI has decoded a message . . . (3, Funny)

Guppy06 (410832) | about 4 months ago | (#45676427)

The only space-faring plumbers we have spend most of their time saving princesses.

Re:Meanwhile, SETI has decoded a message . . . (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45678907)

If it is an air-condition issue, Harry Tuttle is the best heating engineer around (as long as the job does not involve PAPERWORK!)

Re:Meanwhile, SETI has decoded a message . . . (1)

IrquiM (471313) | about 4 months ago | (#45678697)

I've seen the need for space-faring ROVs and AUVs for a few years now. Not convinced the management yet though.

old news (3, Informative)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 4 months ago | (#45676203)

We've known about the plumes for a long time:
http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/LPSC99/pdf/1603.pdf [usra.edu]

This is just direct confirmation of what we already knew about.
It's pretty clear Europa probably has some form of life under the ice. The odds are definitely in it's favor. It's just a matter of confirming it, just like these plumes. The really exciting bit will be if it's multicellular or even fish like animals. I really hope I live long enough to see it.

Re:old news (3, Funny)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 4 months ago | (#45676253)

Perhaps they've evolved a better congressman.

Re:old news (4, Insightful)

amaurea (2900163) | about 4 months ago | (#45676315)

We've known about the plumes for a long time:
http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/LPSC99/pdf/1603.pdf [usra.edu]

This is just direct confirmation of what we already knew about.

That paper talks about the possility that one might observe plumes, as one of several possible explanations for the terrain features seen on Europa. Actually observing such plumes is something else entirely.

It's pretty clear Europa probably has some form of life under the ice. The odds are definitely in it's favor. It's just a matter of confirming it, just like these plumes. The really exciting bit will be if it's multicellular or even fish like animals. I really hope I live long enough to see it.

How is that clear? On what do you base the claim that the odds are so good that "it's just a matter of confirming it"? I don't think you would find anybody working in that field willing to make that bold claims.

Re:old news (0)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 4 months ago | (#45676437)

That paper talks about the possility that one might observe plumes, as one of several possible explanations for the terrain features seen on Europa. Actually observing such plumes is something else entirely.

Isn't that

This is just direct confirmation of what we already knew about.

What I said?

How is that clear? On what do you base the claim that the odds are so good that "it's just a matter of confirming it"? I don't think you would find anybody working in that field willing to make that bold claims.

Google is your friend:

"I'd be shocked if no life existed on Europa," said Shank, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/11/091116-jupiter-moon-life-europa-fish.html [nationalgeographic.com]

You don't seem to understand the difference between evidence and proof. We've plenty of evidence, just not the proof.

I've even go so far as to say I'm relatively sure we'll find life on every planetary body in our solar system. Even the moon. It may only be a few microbes in a lot of cases, but I seriously doubt life is nearly as unique as some believe.

Re:old news (1)

khallow (566160) | about 4 months ago | (#45676953)

I've even go so far as to say I'm relatively sure we'll find life on every planetary body in our solar system.

So what? You have no basis for your surety.

Re:old news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676975)

There is currently zero evidence of life on Europa. What we have is evidence of water and an often-repeated belief that the presence of water is a precursor to life. There's a huge leap from that to the assumption of life.

Re:old news (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 4 months ago | (#45677595)

a few fossilized microbes on one piece of rock that came from another planet is hardly "finding life".

Re:old news (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 4 months ago | (#45678573)

I've even go so far as to say I'm relatively sure we'll find life on every planetary body in our solar system. Even the moon. It may only be a few microbes in a lot of cases, but I seriously doubt life is nearly as unique as some believe.

Life on Earth is obvious. Why are other planets different?

Re:old news (4, Insightful)

icebike (68054) | about 4 months ago | (#45676383)

It's pretty clear Europa probably has some form of life under the ice. The odds are definitely in it's favor.

I don't see how you can get from plumes to life so glibly.
Plumes can be strictly physical effects of tidal activity.

Re:old news (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 4 months ago | (#45679049)

I don't think anyone is claiming the plumes are a result of life.

We don't know what's under the ice but we can make an educated guess and say things like, it's almost certain it will have organic compounds, it's highly probable it will have simple cells if what we understand about the origins of life on Earth and deep sea volcanic vents is correct, if the ocean is oxygenated via some process, protein chains such a colognes (that bind cells together) can exist so it may have multi-cellular life, it's very unlikely to have nuclear submarines. No oxygen and no sunlight is not a problem to extremophile bacteria that can extract energy directly from minerals in the rock such as sulphur and uranium.

Of course at the end of the day, it's just speculation. If your own informed speculation leads you to think (single celled) life under Europa's ice is unlikely then you hold the minority scientific view. Still it's a Schrodinger Moon, you can't know if what is inside is alive or dead until you open it up and observe it, personally I hope I live to see a autonomous submarine rover trying to outrun a giant Europan squid, but I doubt I will live that long.

pretty clear? (1)

pr100 (653298) | about 4 months ago | (#45678155)

Odds definitely in favour? How do you even go about assigning odds to something like life on Europa?

Plumes don't "confirm" the existence of life. It could be that water makes life more likely - if we're assuming that other life has somewhat similar processes to life on Earth - but we knew there was water on Europa anyway.

Re:pretty clear? (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 4 months ago | (#45679097)

The "excitement" is about the possibility of sampling the water as was done by the Cassini probe for one of Saturn's moons (Hyperion?) that has similar plumes. Cassini detected organic compounds in those plumes, so the "building blocks of life" are in the sub-surface ocean of that moon. Hardly surprising since the universe is chock full of organic compounds, the most interesting bit with these moons is that the organics are dissolved in liquid water beneath the surface and tidal forces are strong enough to created deep sea volcanic vents (the convection currents and lipid rich water around these vents is where "rock eating" single celled organisms almost certainly [youtube.com] first emerged on Earth).

Re:pretty clear? (1)

Maritz (1829006) | about 4 months ago | (#45682263)

Water under 100km of ice is a problem for life, because you want to have some cycling of materials from the surface down to the ocean. In 'Unmasking Europa' Richard Greenberg makes a very compelling (in my opinion) case that the icy crust is much thinner than this, as can particularly be seen in melt-through features such as the Connemara Chaos. This, combined with the likelihood that Europa's environment has been stable for billions of years, makes me think it by far the most likely body in the solar system to have life, and indeed even multicellular life. I'm perfectly willing to bet on it but I guess I'd be waiting a loooong time...

Though with or without these plumes, it would still seem sensible to try to collect some of the icy material sharing Europa's orbit, as this ought to have been ejected from impacts (or perhaps these plumes) - a lot easier to find little (dead of course) critters there than trying to melt through 10km or more of ice.

Re:old news (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about 4 months ago | (#45678565)

It's pretty clear Europa probably has some form of life under the ice.

Got a citation for that? Evidence rather than supposition?

Re:old news (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 4 months ago | (#45682211)

It's pretty clear Europa probably has some form of life under the ice.

Really? Just because there's water? You do realize that we found indications that Mars was once warm and wet, with salt and fresh water, yet still no indication there was ever life there?

It doesn't seem that clear to me. Seems to me that life is pretty damned improbable and is likely really, really rare. We haven't been able to produce it on purpose so it HAS to be a really rare coincidence for it to happen accidentally. I'd wager that the fiction in Nobots [mcgrewbooks.com] is probably right, that life is rare and "found in few galaxies."

Re:old news (1)

rosencreuz (1393933) | about 4 months ago | (#45682891)

Enough with this already. There's no single fricking day where scientists doesn't find water somewhere outside earth. no wait, they actually found some evidence that there was water somewhere in the distant past. No single actual water molecule so far. Wake me up when water is really found. btw, i don't remember the origin of the saying but very relevant, human mind is very creative, one can look at frosted glass and see whatever he wants to see.

beta (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676343)

If this is a beta, how do I opt out?

Obligatory. (-1, Flamebait)

dadelbunts (1727498) | about 4 months ago | (#45676387)

ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE And screw the goddamn filter telling me not to use so many caps. Its not yelling.

Re:Obligatory. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676505)

It's also not obligatory to post the first quote from a movie that pops into your head. Yes, we've seen that movie. Grow the hell up.

Re:Obligatory. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676563)

Oh, for God's sake, this is Slashdot today. The mature-ish Slashdot you're trumpeting died a long time ago. Get the hell with the program.

Re:Obligatory. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676821)

I've been here for 15 years; Ogg the caveman, the penis-bird, and naked and petrified Natalie Portman with hot grits all tell me that Slashdot was never mature.

Re:Obligatory. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45678521)

There are plenty of us who've been here for over 15 years. It's like we're all Peter Pan - we never grew up. Hopefully there aren't too many of us sneaking around kids' bedrooms at night like Peter Pan, though.

Re:Obligatory. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676591)

Especially after it's been posted 3 times already.

Re:Obligatory. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676729)

Oh so mature ;) Btw, that quote is from the book, not the movie.

Another Hubble story (2)

bob_super (3391281) | about 4 months ago | (#45676557)

Can you remind me why a 12th aircraft carrier is a better use of taxpayer money than a bunch of space telescopes?

Re:Another Hubble story (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676629)

Can you remind me why a 12th aircraft carrier is a better use of taxpayer money than a bunch of space telescopes?

I was going to post a snide comment about congresscritters getting a higher ROI with aircraft. Turns out it isn't so.

Lockheed (LMT) built Hubble, up 182% in the last decade
Northrop Grumman (NOC) owns the company that builds aircraft carriers, up 131% in the same time period

Ignoring other factors, it really is a better investment to fund more space telescopes.

Re:Another Hubble story (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676915)

Lockheed Martin also secured a contract for the F-35 and F-22 which is going to be worth over 2 trillion dollars.

I don't think Hubble had much to do with it.

longevity and mass production (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45677739)

American aircraft carriers last for 50 years, and have a lower incremental cost. It costs a LOT of money to develop a good aircraft carrier, and to get the infrastructure in place to build one. Having a single shipyard in steady production has a lower per unit cost. If America didn't already have the expertise and infrastructure to build aircraft carriers, I would not build any.

Re:Another Hubble story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45680795)

Because building space telescopes requires a lot of skill. Aircraft carrier building mostly uses blue-collar labor. We need more jobs for the America's Got Wife Swap crowd.

Re:Another Hubble story (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45725213)

Well... we could weld airlocks to all the hatches stick it on top of a giant steel plate and send it into space.

What has happened to Slashdot? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45676645)

Is the "beta" now forced?
Is there any way to get the old version back?

slashdot has jumped the shark (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45677363)

If there's no way back to the old system, then slashdot has truly jumped the shark.

Here lies Slashdot
R.I.P.

Rocket liftoff from Europa. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45677367)

Maybe an intelligent alien life form under the ocean just sent a spaceship to outerspace.

Re:Rocket liftoff from Europa. (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 4 months ago | (#45677389)

Maybe an intelligent alien life form under the ocean just sent a spaceship to outerspace.

Or a test fire of a new ballistic missile, with the capacity to destroy a planet.

Its effectiveness to be determined, after it hits the third planet, and they determine whether they see a planet with no intelligent life on it incinerated.

Europa Report (1)

almitydave (2452422) | about 4 months ago | (#45683973)

I didn't see anyone else mention it, but there's a decent low-budget sci-fi movie about the first manned mission to Europa where they're looking for life under the ice: Europa Report [netflix.com]. I thought it was quite good.

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45684657)

"Attempt no landing there."

Does anyone know a link to proper image material? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45690041)

I am getting a bit sick of those bullshit artist's impressions...

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