Water geysers on Europa may make it easier to search for life there

New analysis of old data gathered by NASA's Galileo orbiter suggests that Jupiter's moon Europa is likely shooting water into space from geysers on its icy surface. Europa is considered to be the most likely candidate in our solar system to support extraterrestrial life and the plumes may make it easier for scientists to find evidence of oceanic ETs below the moon's frozen shell. Nadia Drake writes about this far out news over at National Geographic:

Finding plumes raises the possibility that the ocean tucked beneath its icy shell might erupt into outer space, which means that tasting that alien sea and searching it for signs of life could be as simple as sending a spacecraft zooming through a plume of ejected water vapor.

That's still not exactly easy, but it is less complicated than asking a probe to fly all the way to Europa, safely land, burrow through a miles-thick crust of rock-hard ice, and then get to work being an extraterrestrial ocean explorer.

It's also possible—and perhaps more likely—that any plumes come from a lake or some other reservoir trapped in the ice. But that still means an orbiting spacecraft, like the Europa Clipper mission that's tentatively scheduled to launch in the early 2020s, could sample a plume and get a glimpse of what lies beneath the moon's ruddy, crisscrossed rind.

"It's unlikely that one of these plumes is going to throw a fish into space that's going to whack into Europa Clipper," says Cynthia Phillips of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It's more likely to come from pockets of liquid that are closer to the surface – so, not free ocean samples, but free subsurface samples."

"Water Geysers Likely Found on This 'Alien' Ice Moon" (Nat Geo)