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Europa vents water, Hubble data suggest

Plumes from ice-covered oceans would increase likelihood of life-friendly conditions on moon of Jupiter

BLUE MOON  Hydrogen atoms that could have originated in water molecules shooting up from an ocean buried by ice appear in blue, superposed on a photo of Europa.

Water vapor spews from jagged cracks near the south pole of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, according to a study published December 12 in Science. If confirmed, these geysers would allow astronomers to probe the moon’s watery and possibly life-supporting interior.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” says Britney Schmidt, a planetary scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “It blows your mind at what these worlds can do.”

Europa, Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon, has tantalized scientists since NASA’s Galileo mission in the 1990s. The probe beamed back photos of a fractured icy surface with few impact craters, suggesting the moon has active geology. Galileo also found strong evidence that the moon harbors a buried ocean heated by the alternating push and pull of Jupiter’s gravity.

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