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Moon and Jupiter

May 3, 2014

The Old Faithful geyser blasts hot water more than a hundred feet above the Wyoming landscape. But that’s like a squirt from a water gun compared to geysers seen on some other worlds in the solar system. On Neptune’s big moon Triton, for example, geysers of frozen nitrogen squirt miles high. And on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, geysers of frozen water squirt so high that some of the ice particles escape and join Saturn’s rings.

Evidence of geysers has also been detected on Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Hubble Space Telescope measured brief puffs of hydrogen and oxygen above Europa’s surface. Planetary scientists say that’s evidence of water shooting up to 125 miles high.

A deep ocean of liquid water appears to lie beneath Europa’s icy crust. Most of the crust is many miles thick. But some spots may be much thinner. Jupiter’s gravitational pull may open gaps in the ice, allowing water to squirt through for a few minutes at a time.

A future orbiting spacecraft may be able to swoop through the plumes of these geysers. Its instruments could even look for evidence of life in the water — evidence blasted high into space by giant geysers.

Jupiter stands directly above our own Moon as darkness falls this evening. The solar system’s largest planet looks like a brilliant star, so you can’t miss it. Binoculars will show you Jupiter’s four largest moons, including Europa — a world that may occasionally squirt water from a hidden ocean.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014

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