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Europa. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

The plumes seen erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa might be fed by water trapped in the world's crust, according to a new study.

Why it matters: Europa is thought to be one of the best places to hunt for life in the solar system, in part because of the subsurface ocean scientists expect exists beneath its icy crust.

What they found: The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, suggests that instead of water shooting directly from the subsurface ocean, the plumes may be coming from trapped pools in the moon's crust instead.

  • This could complicate efforts to use those plumes to get an easy sample of Europa's ocean.
  • If the plumes are erupting from trapped water in the crust and not the ocean itself, that water may not be representative of the habitability of the rest of the ocean.
  • “Understanding where these water plumes are coming from is very important for knowing whether future Europa explorers could have a chance to actually detect life from space without probing Europa’s ocean,” Gregor Steinbrügge, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement.

What's next: This new model of Europa's plumes and water will help scientists as they're developing NASA's Europa Clipper mission to the far-away moon.

  • That mission, expected to launch in the mid-2020s, is designed to gather more information about whether Europa is habitable or not.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 5, 2021 - Science

The hunt for alien life heats up in 2021

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The decades-long search for life elsewhere in the universe is building to a crescendo in 2021.

Driving the news: Three new Mars missions are slated to arrive at the Red Planet in February and a powerful space telescope is expected to finally launch this year.

No one in Washington is happy with Facebook

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Oversight Board's decision Wednesday to uphold Facebook's suspension of former President Trump found few fans in Washington and exposed the company to a new round of attacks.

Why it matters: While the board urged Facebook back to the drawing board to better define its rules and processes around political speech, political actors on both left and right agree that the social media giant already has too much power.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
28 mins ago - Technology

Two tales of jobs in tech hubs

Expand chart
Data: Indeed; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Jobs are coming back more slowly in America's top tech centers than in other cities — but it's not the tech jobs that are lagging, according to a new analysis from the jobs site Indeed.

What's happening: Pandemic-era remote work is still keeping white-collar workers in tech hubs at home, and that's slowing down the recovery of local shops and restaurants in those communities.