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Congressman Divulges Unreleased Study to Win Support for Life-Hunting Mission to Jupiter's Moon Europa

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A mission that would sample plumes of gas shooting off of Jovian moon Europa appears to remain on track for a 2022 launch, after a meeting of the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) subcommittee in which Republican Congressman John Culberson shared unreleased scientific results with his colleagues. The new paper could contain findings based on data from the Galileo mission of the late 1990s.

SpaceNews reports:

At the May 9 markup, Culberson passed around a scientific paper with involving a new discovery about Europa and the existence of plumes that offer additional proof that the icy moon [has] a subsurface ocean of liquid water.

“It’s worth noting that the scientific journal Nature Astronomy just reported that the Galileo mission, back in 1997, flew through a water plume on Europa a thousand kilometers thick. So, the ocean of Europa is venting into outer space,” [Said John Culberson, Republican representative from Texas.] “The science community has wanted to go there for years, Mr. Chairman, and this bill makes that happen.”


These results have not actually been reported yet, as they are under embargo by the journal Nature Astronomy. Journals typically grant some people, mostly journalists, early access to view scientific papers so they have more time to digest the results and report on them accurately. Mentioning the results prior to their release usually results in a loss of these privileges, so Gizmodo will not discuss the specifics beyond Culberson’s public statements and their context.

You may know that Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, could potentially have a layer of water beneath its surface. Perhaps this water is home to life that subsists on heat and methane deep beneath the surface, like the life around our own geothermal vents. NASA hopes to find evidence of this life with a “Europa Clipper,” a mission whose objectives would include flying over the moon looking for plumes of water and perhaps sampling any biological material spewing forth from cracks in the ice.


The Hubble space telescope has already spotted possible evidence of such plumes. Their existence would be bolstered by the results divulged by Culberson.

With the data in mind, the CJS subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee approved the spending bill that allocates $545 million for the Europa Clipper, according to SpaceNews. It also includes $195 million for a potential lander. The bill will soon go to the full appropriations committee. The clipper would launch in 2022 and the lander in 2024, if the project continues to receive the funding it needs to remain on track.

Scientists on Twitter are eager to see the results, while journalists are frustrated that they’ve been partially revealed prior to the agreed-upon release date. We’ll keep you updated once we can publish the specifics, but know that the Europa Clipper has a friend in Congress.

[via SpaceNews]