NASA spots 'possible water plumes' on Jupiter's Europa moon

Computer animation image of possible water plumes 'erupting' on Europa. Credit: NASA

NASA scientists, using the Hubble telescope, believe they have spotted water vapour plumes "erupting" off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa.

The observation means that any future mission to Europa to find possible signs of life will not take as long as first thought, or involve drilling through miles of ice.

Europa’s ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system. These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa’s subsurface.

Geoff Yoder, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles in the air before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa's surface.

NASA said: "Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, but it is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness.

"The plumes provide a tantalising opportunity to gather samples originating from under the surface without having to land or drill through the ice."

ITV News Science correspondent Alok Jha explains why this find is significant: