Hubble spies on Europa shooting alien juice from its southern pole

What? It's what NASA said - what are you thinking of?


Pics and video Images from the Hubble Space Telescope of Jupiter's most intriguing moon, Europa, appear to show plumes of water being ejected from the surface into space.

The telescope took a series of ten shots of Europa over 15 months in the last two years as it passed in front of Jupiter, using the reflected light from the gas giant to get spectrographic images of the small moon.

Three of them showed plumes of fluid 125 miles high blasting from the moon's southern pole.

"Europa's ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system," said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

"These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa's subsurface."

Europa plumes

The plumes appear near the southern pole of Europa

Astronomers first spotted what they thought was a 100-mile high plume of hydrogen and oxygen on Europa in 2012, but the sight was never repeated

Now we have more solid evidence that the moon is indeed spurting fluids from its surface. William Sparks, astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said in today's press conference that there appears to be no other natural explanation for the sighting.

Plumes in 2012 and 2014

The 2012 spectrographic plume shot and Hubble's later pictures

Europa has long intrigued astronomers, since it appears to have a large undersea ocean covered in a broken crust of ice. Tidal forces from Jupiter could provide heat at the core of the moon, and this makes Europa one of the most likely candidates for extraterrestrial life in our solar system.

"For a long time, humanity has been wondering if there is life on other places than earth," said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. "On earth, life is found wherever there is water, energy and nutrients. Europa might be just such a place."

The ice covering the moon is thought to be miles thick, so the scientists aren't sure how they could have erupted. One possibility is that tidal forces on the planet might be able to crack the ice, but that is thought unlikely. Another possibility is impact sites on the moon breaking up the crust enough for water to escape.

Youtube Video

The plumes are important because they could make examining Europa's buried oceans for signs of life much easier. NASA is already working on a Europa mission, but it's difficult to get readings through miles of ice.

One (now scrapped) suggestion is building a lander with a radioactive heating element, which would slowly melt the ice and allow for a probe to sink down eventually into the oceans. But it would be a massive engineering challenge, and if plumes are quite common, a probe orbiting the moon could sample them without even needing to land.

The current mission plan for a Europa flyby has the probe carrying nine instruments, all of which could be used to analyze plumes of material. No firm date, or firm funding, has been set for a Europa mission as yet.

Europa isn't just interesting because it might harbor life – indeed it might cause ethical problems if it did, because Europa interests some as a solar system refueling station, where spaceships could top up their tanks with easily accessed hydrogen and oxygen fuel. But if life is found, it would put Europa off limits for refueling.

We won't know, of course, what is in the ocean until we go and check it out. Legendary science fiction author Arthur C Clarke postulated that life existed on the moon and that alien life would keep mankind away with the warning "All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace."

If NASA's evidence is right we now might not need to land after all. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Assange can go to UK Supreme Court (again) to fend off US extradition bid

    Top Brit judges may consider whether an American prison is just too much

    Julian Assange has won a technical victory in his ongoing battle against extradition from the UK to the United States, buying him a few more months in the relative safety of Her Majesty's Prison Belmarsh.

    Today at London's High Court, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Burnett approved a question on a technical point of law, having refused Assange immediate permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court. The WikiLeaker's lawyers had asked for formal permission to pose this legal conundrum about Assange's likely treatment in US prisons to the Supreme Court:

    Continue reading
  • They see us Cinnamon Rolling, they're rating: GeckoLinux incorporates kernel 5.16 with familiar installation experience

    A nice, clean community distro that works well

    Most distros haven't got to 5.15 yet, but openSUSE's downstream project GeckoLinux boasts 5.16 of the Linux kernel and the latest Cinnamon desktop environment.

    Some of the big-name distros have lots of downstream projects. Debian has been around for decades so has umpteen, including Ubuntu, which has dozens of its own, including Linux Mint, which is arguably more popular a desktop than its parent. Some have only a few, such as Fedora. As far as we know, openSUSE has just the one – GeckoLinux.

    The SUSE-sponsored community distro has two main editions, the stable Leap, which has a slow-moving release cycle synched with the commercial SUSE Linux Enterprise; and Tumbleweed, its rolling-release distro, which gets substantial updates pretty much every day. GeckoLinux does its own editions of both: its remix of Leap is called "GeckoLinux Static", and its remix of Tumbleweed is called "GeckoLinux Rolling".

    Continue reading
  • Running Windows 10? Microsoft is preparing to fire up the update engines

    Winter Windows Is Coming

    It's coming. Microsoft is preparing to start shoveling the latest version of Windows 10 down the throats of refuseniks still clinging to older incarnations.

    The Windows Update team gave the heads-up through its Twitter orifice last week. Windows 10 2004 was already on its last gasp, have had support terminated in December. 20H2, on the other hand, should be good to go until May this year.

    Continue reading
  • Throw away your Ethernet cables* because MediaTek says Wi-Fi 7 will replace them

    *Don't do this

    MediaTek claims to have given the world's first live demo of Wi-Fi 7, and said that the upcoming wireless technology will be able to challenge wired Ethernet for high-bandwidth applications, once available.

    The fabless Taiwanese chip firm said it is currently showcasing two Wi-Fi 7 demos to key customers and industry collaborators, in order to demonstrate the technology's super-fast speeds and low latency transmission.

    Based on the IEEE 802.11be standard, the draft version of which was published last year, Wi-Fi 7 is expected to provide speeds several times faster than Wi-Fi 6 kit, offering connections of at least 30Gbps and possibly up to 40Gbps.

    Continue reading
  • Windows box won't boot? SystemRescue 9 may help

    An ISO image you can burn or drop onto a USB key

    The latest version of an old friend of the jobbing support bod has delivered a new kernel to help with fixing Microsoft's finest.

    It used to be called the System Rescue CD, but who uses CDs any more? Enter SystemRescue, an ISO image that you can burn, or just drop onto your Ventoy USB key, and which may help you to fix a borked Windows box. Or a borked Linux box, come to that.

    SystemRescue 9 includes Linux kernel 5.15 and a minimal Xfce 4.16 desktop (which isn't loaded by default). There is a modest selection of GUI tools: Firefox, VNC and RDP clients and servers, and various connectivity tools – SSH, FTP, IRC. There's also some security-related stuff such as Yubikey setup, KeePass, token management, and so on. The main course is a bunch of the usual Linux tools for partitioning, formatting, copying, and imaging disks. You can check SMART status, mount LVM volumes, rsync files, and other handy stuff.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022