Monday, 22 October, 2018

Jupiter’s Moon Europa may have Huge Ice Spikes on its Surface

Jupiter's moon Europa is covered in salty water Image Jupiter's moon Europa is covered in salty water
Kristen Harrington | 11 October, 2018, 02:30

Previous space missions have already identified Europa as one of the likeliest destinations for harbouring life in our solar system, most notably because of the large seas of liquid water underneath its surface.

"For this process to take place on another planet, the ice must be sufficiently volatile to sublimate under surface conditions and diffusive processes that act to smooth the topography must operate more slowly", the study says.

"On Earth, the sublimation of massive ice deposits at equatorial latitudes under cold and dry conditions in the absence of any liquid melt leads to the formation of spiked and bladed textures eroded into the surface of the ice", the study explains.

Penitentes are tall sharp-edged blades and spikes made of snow and ice that point towards the midday sun.

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There are examples of smaller ice shards which have formed from sublimation on Earth, but these are restricted to high-altitude tropical and sub-tropical regions like the Andes.

On Europa, the conditions are flawless for giant penitentes to form.

In a latest study, researchers report they have found evidence of huge, jagged "ice spikes" on the surface of Europa. 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. But the scientists of Cardiff University warned that located on Jupiter's moon of ice will kill any mission before it landed.

Excitingly, the Europa Clipper mission may be a forerunner to a landing mission on the Jovian moon, in which a probe would drill through the icy surface and plunge into the dark ocean beneath.

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"We hope studies like ours will help the engineers to develop innovative ways of delivering landers safely on Europa's surface so that we can find out even more about this fascinating place, and potentially look for signs of extra-terrestrial life".

This image shows two views of Europa.

"If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper we will be ready for them", said Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science, at NASA Headquarters.

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