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Discovery of 200-km-high (124-mi.) ice geysers above the southern hemisphere of Europa has raised hopes that a flyby mission already in the works may raise the near-term chances of finding life in the global ocean beneath the frozen surface of Jupiter's big moon.

Scientists have long believed that Europa's ocean is one of the few places in the Solar System where life might have evolved, but mission-concept studies to date have focused on penetrating kilometers of ice to find out. Discovery of the geysers by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope offers another option.

“If we can actually fly at 10 kilometers above Europa through a plume, we're sampling the subsurface oceans, and if we bring something like the organic analyzers that are built by the mass spectrometry group that built the sample analysis at Mars, and detect organic molecules, that would be pretty phenomenal,” says John Grunsfeld, an astronomer, NASA associate administrator for science and three-time Hubble-servicing astronaut.

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