Jupiter’s Moon Europa May Have Huge Ice Spikes On Its Surface

Posted: Oct 9 2018, 3:53pm CDT | by , Updated: Oct 9 2018, 3:58pm CDT, in Latest Science News


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Jupiter’s Moon Europa may have Huge Ice Spikes on its Surface
An example of the penitentes in Chile. Credit: ESO

Distinctive blade-like structures could pose a hazard to a future lander on Europa.

Jupiter’s moon Europa is probably the most promising place in our solar system to search for signs of life beyond Earth. But the quest for habitable extraterrestrial world could be a challenge with a new discovery.

In a latest study, researchers report they have found evidence of huge, jagged "ice spikes" on the surface of Europa. Some of these spikes are 50 feet tall and could pose a hazard to future missions landing on the moon.

“It is unclear how easy it would be to safely land a spacecraft on this icy moon. Europa’s surface is fragmented by grooves and ridges and we lack sufficiently high-resolution imagery to determine how smooth the ice is between these features.” The study said.

Jupiter's moon Europa has long been a major target for exploration because it harbors a salty water ocean beneath its icy crust. In 2020, a mission is also being planned for Europa which would take high resolution images of the moon's icy surface and investigate its composition and structure of its interior. The mission will ultimately determine whether Europa is habitable and possess ingredients necessary for life. But structures resembling blades of ice could cause trouble for any such mission.

On Earth, extreme cold and dry conditions such as those encountered in South America's Andes mountain range can cause massive deposits of ice to undergo sublimation and leave behind distinctive blade-like formations. These formations on Earth are known as penitentes.

While available images are not detailed enough to detect these features on Europa, researchers suggest that a similar process likely takes place on this moon. Evidence of jagged geological ridges is already found at the highest altitudes of another icy world Pluto.

“Here we calculate sublimation rates of water ice across the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. We find that surface sublimation rates exceed those of erosion by space weathering processes in Europa’s equatorial belt (latitudes below 23°), and that conditions would favor penitente growth.” Authors wrote in the study. “Although available images of Europa have insufficient resolution to detect surface roughness at the multi-meter scale, radar and thermal data are consistent with our interpretation.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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