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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
Nov 17, 2020 - Science

A new mini-moon enters our orbit

An animation showing the new mini-moon's orbit. Gif: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Earth has captured a new mini-moon that will orbit our planet for a few months before heading back out on its cosmic journey through the solar system.

The big picture: Scientists think our planet likely has some kind of "mini-moon" in orbit at any given time.

Biden plans to ask public to wear masks for first 100 days in office

Joe Biden. Photo: Mark Makela/Gettu Images

President-elect Joe Biden told CNN on Thursday that he plans to ask the American public to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his presidency.

The big picture: Biden also stated he has asked NIAID director Anthony Fauci to stay on in his current role, serve as a chief medical adviser and be part of his COVID-19 response team when he takes office early next year.

What COVID-19 vaccine trials still need to do

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

COVID-19 vaccines are being developed at record speed, but some experts fear the accelerated regulatory process could interfere with ongoing research about the vaccines.

Why it matters: Even after the first COVID-19 vaccines are deployed, scientific questions will remain about how they are working and how to improve them.