Space mission warning: the sharp ice on Jupiter's moon Europa

Jupiter moon mission may be hampered by giant ice shards, scientists warn

(The technical term for this phenomenon is sublimation.) The process can leave behind ice that gets carved into unusual, spiked formations known as penitentes.

We haven't really seen any detailed images of Europa previously, so we can't say; but since these scientists claim that there's rock-hard ice there, it has to be there through a mechanism. They form through a process known as sublimation, which requires bright, sustained sunlight as well as cold, dry and still air. 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.

In order to explore the always been attracting the attention of scholars the moons of Jupiter, NASA is preparing to launch a mission to Europa Lander.

A team led by scientists at the University of Cardiff predicts that shards of ice up to 50ft tall could be scattered across Europa's surface.

Using pre-existing observational data, the researchers calculated the sublimation rates at various points on the moon's surface, allowing them to estimate both the size and distribution of the penitentes. It was also inferred that the penitentes would be more common around Europa's equator. This bolsters the idea that there's something waiting on Europa's surface to tear incoming spacecraft to shreds.

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If there is some good news in all of this, it's that a future mission to Europa might avoid the equatorial regions anyway.

Past studies of Europa's icy shell have envisioned a surface that is smooth at the lander scale, dominated by diffusive impact processes such as impact gardening and sputtering by charged particles in Jupiter's magnetic field.

In a latest study, researchers report they have found evidence of huge, jagged "ice spikes" on the surface of Europa.

And as the new study shows, these areas are less likely to host those hazardous icy spikes.

Sometime in the early 2020s NASA is planning on launching an orbiter to Europa called the Europa Clipper. It is believed a landing mission could follow soon after.

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