The Potential for Life in a Europa Plume

Categories: Europa News Brief

europa_plume_banner2-06Jan2015

Credit: NASA Astrobiology

NASA’s Planetary Science Division is convening a workshop at the NASA Ames Research Center to discuss the possibility of searching for biosignatures in a putative plume on Europa. The workshop will be jointly hosted by the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) and  SSERVI.

Last year, the Hubble Space Telescope observed what may have been a plume of water vapor erupting from Europa. However, the single observation has yet to be repeated.

If water vapor plumes do exist on Europa, they could provide a means of sampling material from the Jovian moon’s subsurface ocean without having to drill through the ice.

This graphic shows the location of water vapor detected over Europa's south pole in observations taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in December 2012. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/L. Roth/SWRI/University of Cologne

This graphic shows the location of water vapor detected over Europa’s south pole in observations taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in December 2012. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/L. Roth/SWRI/University of Cologne

Invitees to the upcoming workshop at NASA Ames will provide feedback to NASA on the following key questions:

  • What measurements are needed to detect and characterize the presence of life in an acquired sample?
  • What instrumentation is needed to perform these measurements, and what is the current flight readiness of such instruments?
  • What is the amount and nature of the sample needed by these instruments and what sample preparation is necessary?
  • What constraints does the required nature of the sample place on the sample acquisition process?
  • What challenges are present to acquiring the necessary sample and obtaining life-detection measurements from a cubesat(s) deployed by a Europa mission?

 

The workshop will be held on Wednesday, February 18, 2015. Abstract submission is now open and will close on January 27, 2015. For more information, visit the Astrobiology Program website.


Artist impression of the putative plume on Europa that was spotted by Hubble. Credit: European Space Agency