Report Says Jupiter's Moon Europa Has Ice Spikes

Report Says Jupiter's Moon Europa Has Ice Spikes

Self-organized surface patterning is ubiquitous in terrestrial snow and ice during ablation by radiative heating, through both sublimation and melting.

The moon is high on the list for future interplanetary space missions, but a new study suggests landing probes may have to navigate around some tricky obstacles.

Penitentes are present on Earth and grow to between 1 to 5 metres tall, but they are restricted to high-altitude tropical and subtropical conditions, such as in the Andes.

A team led by scientists from Cardiff University has predicted that fields of sharp ice growing to nearly 15 metres tall could be scattered across the equatorial regions of Jupiter's moon, Europa.

To date, the resolution of photographs taken of Europa's surface hasn't been fine enough to show the penitentes, so they remain hypothetical.

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They concluded that the penitentes could potentially grow to around 50 feet tall with a spacing of around 25 feet (7.5 m) between each one.

In a new study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers studying Europa reveal that conditions on the planet might support a phenomenon that occurs on Earth which turns ice into large spiky blades.

"Beneath the icy surface of Europa is perhaps the most promising place to look for present-day environments suitable for life", NASA had earlier said. 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.

Now, all we can await is the 2-billion Europa Clipper mission, that is set to launch in the 2020s, which will see whether the icy moon can host life (for real).

These blades could make it even harder for potential visitors to find signs of life in the moon's subterranean sea, which is seen as the likeliest place in the Solar System to contain extraterrestrial life. When ice is exposed to the elements for long periods of time - specifically when it's bathed in sunlight but ambient temperature remains well below freezing - it tends to form valleys and peaks which become more pointed and "sharp" over time.

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