Jupiter’s moon Europe throws water from its underground ocean into space

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — When flying past the moon of Jupiter in Europe twenty years ago, NASA‘s Galileo space probe may have witnessed jets of water. A group of scientists, including researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, found new evidence for this event.

In computer simulations, they sought to reproduce the data collected by the onboard particle detector, which was developed and manufactured at MPS and in the USA. Europe, with its crust of frozen water and the underground ocean, has environmental conditions that can be favorable for simple life forms. Water fountains will offer future missions to Jupiter the possibility of direct contact with bodies of water on this moon.

The layered internal structure of Europe, including a liquid iron core, a thin oxygen-rich atmosphere, an induced magnetic field – the fourth largest moon of Jupiter Europe, has a great resemblance to the planet than to the primitive moon. Another feature: the outer crust of frozen water up to 18 kilometers thick covers the underground ocean of water.

Thanks to new calculations by a team of researchers led by the European Space Agency (ESA) and MPS, there is now growing evidence that the moon throws this water into space, at least occasionally, during cryovolcanic eruptions called loops. The moon of Saturn, Enceladus, is known to exhibit similar behavior. During the NASA Cassini mission, onboard cameras took impressive shots of its plumes.

There is still no corroborated and irrefutable evidence that Europe is also throwing water into space. “Nevertheless, various theories, models, and sporadic observations suggest that Europe may also exhibit similar outbursts,” says MPS scientist Dr. Elias Russos. In recent years, researchers from several institutes in Europe and the USA independently found concrete evidence. Some of these groups evaluated magnetometer data aboard NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, which spent eight years since 1995 exploring the Jupiter system. During the flight of Europe in 2000, the measured data showed deviations in the magnetic field of Jupiter near the moon. This may be due to the release of water that occurred just at the same time.

An ESA scientist, Dr. Hans Highbreis, and his colleagues also reviewed the data on overflights in 2000, but this time they once again looked at the measurements made by the energy particle detector (EPD). This device was developed and manufactured at the Johns Hopkins University Laboratory of Applied Physics (USA) and at MPS. Among other things, the EPD recorded the distribution of high-energy protons trapped in the magnetic field of Jupiter.

“Jupiter’s magnetic field is twenty times stronger than Earth’s and extends several million kilometers into space,” says MPS researcher Dr. Norbert Krupp, who describes the conditions inside the Jupiter system. Europe revolves around Jupiter in this huge magnetic shield. During the passage, the EPD recorded significantly fewer protons near the moon than expected. Researchers previously suggested that the moon itself prevents data capture.

However, new results point to another reason. In complex computer simulations, scientists led by ESA and MPS simulated the motion of high-energy protons during a Galileo flight, trying to reproduce measurement data. This was successful only on the condition that it was the release of water that affected the European environment. When high-energy protons collide with uncharged particles from the atmosphere or with a plume of water on the moon, they absorb electrons from them, so they themselves become uncharged particles. “This means that they can no longer be trapped in the magnetic field of Jupiter and can leave the system at high speed,” explains study author Dr. Hans Highbrais from ESA.

Future missions to the Jupiter system will be able to personally observe the plumes in Europe, as well as be able to come into direct contact with the groundwater reservoir of the moon and characterize them. In 2022, the ESA mission JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer) will begin its journey. MPS will provide for this purpose a Submillimeter Wave Unit (SWI) and Electron-Ion Spectrometer (JEI). NASA is also preparing a Europa-Clipper mission, due to be launched in 2023 for the Jovian system. MPS also participates in the mission’s science team.


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