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Jupiter icy moon Europa spotted spraying water into space

Washington, Dec 14 (): Jupiter’s moon Europa looks to be spraying a puff of water vapour 125 miles high above Europa in a special image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA said Thursday. It is believed the water vapours may be connected to a hidden ocean.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has witnessed water vapour above the frigid south polar region of Europa, giving out the first strong evidence of water columns present on the surface of Jupiter’s moon. The images taken November and December of last year and the older images captured from 1999 show enormous fountains erupting off the surface of the moon.

Such images show evidence of water being broken apart into oxygen and hydrogen over the south polar regions of Europa. Lead author Lorenz Roth of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas said they are consistent with two 200-km-high (125 mile-high) plumes of water vapour. Further, it is said every second, seven tonnes of material are ejected from the surface of the moon.

The plumes look to be temporary – they arise for just seven hours at a time. These plumes tend to peak when Europa is at its farthest distance from Jupiter (the apocentre of its orbit) and they vanish when Europa comes closest (the pericentre).

Researchers propose, this clearly means that tidal acceleration could be driving water spouting – by opening cracks in the surface ice. They suggest that long cracks on Europa’s surface, known as lineae, might be venting water vapour into space.

The team is not yet sure whether these fissures go all the way down to the liquid water beneath the moon’s icy crust, or whether some other mechanism is bringing the vapour to the surface.

Sources say previous scientific findings have already pointed the existence of an ocean located under the icy crust of Europa. The clear findings would make Europa the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapour plumes.