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September 26, 2016 02:00 PM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2016-33

NASA's Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Jupiter's Moon Europa

September 26, 2016: New findings from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show suspected water plumes erupting from Jupiter's icy moon Europa. These observations bolster earlier Hubble work suggesting that Europa is venting water vapor. A team of astronomers, led by William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, observed these finger-like projections while viewing Europa's limb as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. The team was inspired to use this observing method by studies of atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars.

The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa's surface. This is exciting because Europa is a plausible place for life to have developed beyond the Earth. If the venting plumes originate in a subsurface ocean, they could act as an elevator to bring deep-sea life above Europa's surface, where it could be sampled by visiting spacecraft. This offers a convenient way to access the chemistry of that ocean without drilling through miles of ice. To view a short summary video about the Europa plumes, visit the YouTube link at https://youtu.be/4QJS9LcB66g.

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Credit: NASA, ESA, and W. Sparks (STScI)