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article imagePlumes of water may be erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa: NASA

By Arthur Weinreb     Sep 28, 2016 in Science
NASA announced the Hubble Space Telescope has imaged what appears to be plumes of water coming from Jupiter's moon Europa. This could signal the possibility of life underneath the moon's frozen surface.
Earlier this week NASA announced the possibility of water plumes shooting into space from Europa. Geoff Yoder, acting associate director of NASA'S Science Directorate, said Europa's ocean is one of the most promising places in the solar system that might contain life.
The water is shooting out to about 125 miles (200 km) above the moon's surface and Europa has an ocean twice as large as all the oceans on Earth. But the saline water is buried under miles of ice. William Sparks, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute, said if water is emerging from Jupiter's moon, it can be studied to see if it contains any organic material or even life. There will be no need to drill through the miles of ice to examine the water.
The first time the fact Europa had an ocean was when the Galileo spacecraft collected data in 1995.
The Hubble Space Telescope observed Europa during a 15-month period when the moon transited in front of Jupiter making it easier to see. Observations were made on 10 occasions and in three of those, what appeared to be plumes of water were seen coming from Europa's south pole. The first indication of eruptions on the moon came in 2012. Large levels of hydrogen and oxygen were discovered by the Hubble telescope near Europa's south pole. This was seen as evidence that water was coming from the moon, although the findings were not able to be replicated until recently. Neither the telescope nor any spacecraft in the vicinity of Jupiter were able to see these eruptions between 2012 and recently. This led to the belief these emissions are sporadic.
According to NASA's release, more about the timing of the release of these plumes is needed so that scientists will know when to look for and further examine the water coming from the moon's south pole.
Scientists hope to confirm the existence of these plumes after the James Webb Space Telescope is launched in 2018. As well, more flybys of Europa are scheduled to be launched in the 2020s. Although it is not believed proof of life may be found by these flights, it is hoped organic material will be detected.
Europa is not the first moon in the solar system where the possibility of water and therefore life has been detected. The Cassini probe, orbiting Saturn, has detected similar eruptions from that planet's moon Enceladus. But unlike Europa, Encleadus is a relatively small moon and indications are there is just a small sea below its surface rather than a huge ocean.
NASA's current findings will be published in the Sept. 29 edition of Astrophysical Journal.
More about Jupiter, Europa, jupiter's moons, Hubble space telescope, NASA
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