Jupiter’s Europa might be a spiky, unsafe place to land a ship

11 October, 2018, 02:31 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Jupiter’s Europa might be a spiky, unsafe place to land a ship

Any robotic spacecraft landing on the moon will have to navigate its way around lethal obstacles, a new study suggests. This type of ice, which is less than 10 million years old, should exist in the mid-to-high latitudes, where the moon points away from Jupiter. Europa, the ice-covered Jovian moon where the existence of alien life hasn't been ruled out.

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 presence of sharp, blade-like structures towering to nearly 50 feet high would make any potential landing mission to Europa extremely precarious".

Scientists from the University of Cardiff say shards of ice up to 15m (50ft) high could be dotted all over the moon's surface. The theory explains how the sun's rays can be so strong that turns the water directly into vapor, leaving behind sharp formations. Those conditions include a surface covered in ice, ideal temperatures, other environmental factors to support sublimation, and a consistent angle of incoming sunlight.

Conditions on Europa may be ideal for "penitentes" to form, which are spiky, bladed ice formations found on Earth at higher elevations such as the Andes Mountains.

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

If Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had landed on Europa instead of our moon, that "small step" would have been significantly more treacherous.

Europa's surface, clicked by Galileo spacecraft.

Sometime in the early 2020s NASA is planning on launching an orbiter to Europa called the Europa Clipper. It should also give scientists a much better idea of what the surface looks like, and if it sees a bed of icy spikes, NASA will have to figure out how to deal with them for future missions.

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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