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Hubble telescope ramps up search for Europa’s watery plumes

Observations in the next 8 months aim to confirm that Jupiter’s icy moon spews water from its south pole

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1:34pm, January 11, 2018
illustration of Jupiter and Europa

LITTLE MOON, BIG WORLD  Watching the tiny ice moon Europa cross in front of Jupiter helped astronomers reveal Europa’s watery plumes. This artist’s impression superimposes real visible images of Jupiter and Europa with ultraviolet data from the Hubble Space Telescope showing the plumes (blue).

OXON HILL, Md. — Astronomers may soon know for sure if Europa is spouting off. After finding signs that Jupiter’s icy moon emits repeating plumes of water near its southern pole, astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope hope to detect more evidence of the geysers.

“The statistical significance is starting to look pretty good,” astronomer William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore says. He presented preliminary results on the hunt for the plumes at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society on January 9.

Sparks’ team started observing Europa on January 5, hoping to catch it passing in front of Jupiter 30 times before September. Hubble can detect active plumes silhouetted against background light from Jupiter. If the plume repeats as often as it seems to, “it’s essentially a certainty we’ll see it again if it’s real,” Sparks said.

Europa probably hosts

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