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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.

Updated 1 hour ago - Sports

Swimmer Chase Kalisz first American to win Tokyo Olympics gold medal

Chase Kalisz of Team United States celebrates after winning the Men's 400m Individual Medley Final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Swimmer Chase Kalisz has become the first Team United States Olympian to win gold at the Tokyo Games.

The big picture: The Rio 2016 silver medalist's winning time in the men's 400 meters Individual Medley Final was 4 minutes 9.42 seconds. His teammate Jay Litherland took silver, .86 seconds behind him. Moments later, Kieran Smith grabbed a third medal for the U.S. when he won bronze in the 400-meter freestyle.

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

DOJ won't investigate nursing home deaths in N.Y. and 2 other states

People who've lost loved ones due to COVID-19 while they were in New York nursing homes attend a March protest and vigil in New York City. As of this month, Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Department of Justice has decided not to launch a civil rights investigation into whether policies in New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan contributed to pandemic deaths in nursing homes, according to a letter sent to Republicans.

Why it matters: The Trump DOJ requested data from the three states plus New Jersey last August "amid still-unanswered questions about whether some states, especially New York, inadvertently worsened the pandemic death toll by requiring nursing homes to accept residents previously hospitalized for COVID-19," per AP.