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Hubble Discovers Water Plumes Over Europa 74

Posted by samzenpus
from the thar-she-blows dept.
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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Hubble Discovers Water Plumes Over Europa

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  • Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @08:11PM (#45676055) Journal

    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?

    • by noh8rz10 (2716597)

      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: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Sorry!

      All these worlds
      are yours except
      Europa
      Attempt No
      Landing there

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        Sorry!

        All these worlds
        are yours except
        Europa
        Attempt No
        Landing there

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

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        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 (Score:5, Informative)

      by erice (13380) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @09:32PM (#45676495) Homepage

      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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by green is the enemy (3021751) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @09:51PM (#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.
    • 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.
    • by daem0n1x (748565)
      I live in the south of Europe and haven't noticed any plumes. But the signs of life are abundant.
  • No rain today, just snow
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by alphonse23 (3461977)
      Not just snow, giant chunks of ice crashing into the ground. "Aww, snow -- how pretty -- (then) -- KABOOOM!"
  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @08:32PM (#45676171)

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

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

  • old news (Score:3, Informative)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @08:39PM (#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 (Score:4, Funny)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @08:47PM (#45676253) Journal

      Perhaps they've evolved a better congressman.

    • Re:old news (Score:5, Insightful)

      by amaurea (2900163) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @09:00PM (#45676315) Homepage

      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 (Score:5, Informative)

        by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @09:23PM (#45676435) Homepage

        Better article [nationalgeographic.com] (with sort of a picture of the phenomenon)

      • 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.

        • by khallow (566160)

          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.

        • by gl4ss (559668)

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

        • 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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by icebike (68054) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @09:13PM (#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.

      • Isn't it obvious? That's not tidal activity, those plumes are breaching moon-whales [southparkstudios.com].
      • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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
      • by Maritz (1829006)

        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 syste

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

      Got a citation for that? Evidence rather than supposition?

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      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 th

    • 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.
  • by bob_super (3391281) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @09:42PM (#45676557)

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

    • by Anonymous Coward

      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: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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.

    • by wbr1 (2538558)
      Because fuck you^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hterrorists, that's why.
  • This is clearly indicative of the presence of whales under the ice.

  • Someone wake me when the Hubble is sending us images of the nude beaches of Europa.
  • 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.

No amount of careful planning will ever replace dumb luck.

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