Europa ocean sampling by plume flythrough: Astrobiological expectations
The anticipated material captured from a flythrough of Europa’s putative plumes is investigated using a simple model. With parameters appropriate to observed constraints (plume height 100–200 km, column mass 1E20 H2O molecules/m2, originating in a liquid water exposure), bacterial cells of ∼10 μm could be lofted even to the plume tops, but no particles larger than 2 mm will be lofted above ∼2 km, a likely lower limit on feasible altitude. Intercepted mass densities of 1E−5 to 1E−3 kg/m2 are calculated. With a small in-situ sampler at the lowest altitudes a few hundred cells might be captured if the liquid is as abundant in biota as the richest environments on Earth, but statistically less than 1 cell for Vostok waters, a Europa analog. The imperative for a large collection area is noted. The likelihood of capturing at least a single cell, with a log-uniform prior of cell abundances, is proposed as a science value metric for different flyby altitudes.