Giant, jagged 'ice spikes' cover Jupiter's moon Europa, new study suggests

Giant, jagged 'ice spikes' cover Jupiter's moon Europa, new study suggests

That could be bad news for incoming spacecraft, the researchers pointed out, like the possible lander component of the Europa Clipper mission scheduledfor the late 2020s.

"Here we calculate sublimation rates of water ice across the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. 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 moon of Jupiter has a saltwater ocean that scientists have long proposed visiting, because at least some researchers think it might contain extraterrestrial life.

Jupiter's moon, Europa, could be littered with massive "icy spikes" which would make future space missions hard if astronomers hope to touch down on the surface, according to a report published this week in Nature Geoscience.

Penitentes are composed of snow and ice, and they arise through sublimation - a chemical process in which ice turns directly into water vapour without melting into a liquid beforehand.

The shards, called penitentes, are sharp-edged blades, with spikes, that point toward the midday sun.

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Cold, dry, and still air.

"Beneath the icy surface of Europa is perhaps the most promising place to look for present-day environments suitable for life", NASA said. Actually traveling to Europa is still little more than a dream, but when we eventually make it happen we may need to grapple with something unexpected: a surface covered in brutal blades of ice.

Research published this past July suggests scientists on the hunt for life will have a better chance of finding potential biosignatures in Europa's younger ice and in lower-radiation locations.

Led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University, and including Richard Elphic from NASA's Ames Research Center, the team used data from NASA's "Moon Mineralogy Mapper" (M3) to spot the ice. Its surface is mainly ice and it has the thermal conditions required for ice to sublime without melting.

Europa's surface, clicked by Galileo spacecraft. It is believed a landing mission could follow soon after.

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