Hubble sees more hints of Europa’s water plumes

Europa plumes
This composite image shows suspected plumes of water vapor erupting at the 7 o’clock position off the limb of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The Hubble data were taken on Jan. 26, 2014. The image of Europa, superimposed on the Hubble data, is assembled from data from the Galileo and Voyager missions. (Credit: W. Sparks / STScI / NASA / ESA / USGS Astrogeology Science Center)

It’s not aliens. And it’s not exactly surprising, despite NASA’s advance billing. But new evidence of water plumes emanating from Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter, have added to the excitement over a proposed mission that could sample the water for signs of life.

The evidence comes in the form of splotchy ultraviolet images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, operating at the limits of its sensitivity. Scientists say the images appear to show intermittent emissions of water vapor near Europa’s south pole.

“If plumes exist, this is an exciting finding,” William Sparks, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, told reporters today during a teleconference.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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