A Nasa probe that explored Jupiter’s moon Europa, flew through a giant plume of water vapour that erupted from the icy surface and reached a hundred miles high, according to the latest data provided by the spacecraft. This recent discovery has further cemented multiple theories suggesting the potential presence of alien life on one of Jupiter’s moons. Some scientists believe that the Jovian moon, one of four first spotted by the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei in 1610, is the most probably place to consider, in the hunt for alien life.

Nasa’s Galileo spacecraft spent eight years in orbit around Jupiter and made its closest pass over Europa on 16 December 1997. Europa was recorded to be nearly the same size as the moon that orbit’s Earth. As the probe dropped beneath an altitude of 250 miles, its sensors twitched with peculiar signals that scientists were unable to decipher at the time.Researchers now report in a new study that NASA’s Galileo Jupiter probe, which orbited the planet from 1995 to 2003, also detected a likely Europa plume during its flight in 1997. Scientists concluded that a sudden blast of water from the Jovian moon explained the Galileo probe’s odd measurements. They also suggested that the grainy images broadcasted by the Hubble Space telescope in 2016 showed plumes of water blasting from Europa’s surface.

The newly analyzed Galileo data provides “compelling independent evidence that there seems to be a plume on Europa,” said study lead author Xianzhe Jia, an associate professor in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of Michigan.

On its closest flight, the probe sailed over Europa at more than 2,230 meters per hour. As it swept past, the instruments onboard reported a brief and sharp twist in the magnetic field and a rapid increase in the density of plasma (ionized gas) the spacecraft was flying through. Computer simulations created by Xianzhe Jia showed that a 120-mile-high geyser erupting from a relatively warm patch on Europa would project the same readings.“Our detection of a plume based on the Galileo data certainly strengthens the case for future exploration of Europa,” Jia said. A subsequent mission called Europa Clipper is scheduled to launch in 2020 with the hopes of exploring the potential existence or sustainability of life on Europa. Another mission, Esa’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or Juice, is expected to launch around the same time and explore Europa and two other Jovian moons, Ganymede and Callisto.

However, scientific discoveries can only materialize theories to a certain extent. The moons are hardly habitable housing an excruciating surface temperature that doesn’t rise above -160 C (-256 F). Existence of life at the moment seems only probable through the heat generated from tidal kneading driven by the massive gravitational forces that come with an orbit around Jupiter. Life may be thriving around hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean in a world of frigid, eternal night.“Europa is completely engulfed by this saline ocean which lies beneath a crust of ice, and in terms of a places to host extant life, I think it’s the best location that we’ve got beyond planet Earth. It would be good to find out what is really there.” said William Sparks, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

In a relentless search for life beyond our planet, this may be our best bet. With endless possibilities in an infinite universe, the most impossible conditions may be the home to fascinating alien forms with different biological constructions. For all we know, we might discover forms that defy life as we know it and we can be assured that science is getting us there by the day!

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