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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.

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.