Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Why Jupiter’s Europa moon could be straight out of Game of Thrones

Jupiter moon mission may be hampered by giant ice shards, scientists warn Ice shards 15 metres high 'cover' Jupiter's moon
Cary Marshall | 11 October, 2018, 02:27

While this mission will see the spacecraft perform 45 flybys of Europa, the eventual goal would be to land on the moon, but scientists believe this could be more challenging than previously thought. "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".

Due in part to its salt water ocean, Europa is one of the more promising candidates for extraterrestrial life in our solar system, NASA said, so the moon has been targeted as destination for a future space mission. The researchers go on to explain that the same conditions exist on the surface of Europa, and that the icy blades "could pose a hazard to a future lander on Europa".

Such spikes occur in extremely cold and dry conditions, when under the influence of sunlight the ice undergo sublimation - they move from solid to gas, bypassing the liquid stage, according to the study.

The team has "directly observed definitive evidence" of ice deposits on the surface of the moon using a scientific instrument that measures how molecules absorb light. When lumps of ice sublimate, the shards are left behind.

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In the new study, Cardiff University researcher Daniel Hobley and colleagues used observational data to calculate the sublimation rates at various points on Europa's surface, and then used these to estimate the size and distribution of penitentes.

On Europa, the conditions are ideal for giant penitentes to form. This bolsters the idea that there's something waiting on Europa's surface to tear incoming spacecraft to shreds. Scheduled to launch in the 2020s, the Europa Clipper mission would arrive at Jupiter several years later and try to see whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life. It was also inferred that the penitentes would be more common around Europa's equator.

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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