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

Jupiter's moon Europa is covered in salty water

Jupiter's moon Europa is covered in salty water

Depths under the ice on Europa is life.

The moon of Jupiter has a saltwater ocean that scientists have long proposed visiting, because at least some researchers think it might contain extraterrestrial life.

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

The data it collected did not only examine the reflective properties of water, but could distinguish between how the organisation of the molecules absorbed infrared light, revealing whether it was looking at liquid water, water vapour or solid ice.

Known as penitentes, these sublimation-sculpted blades grow to between 3 to 16 feet (1-5 m) tall, but they are restricted to high-altitude tropical and subtropical conditions, such as in the Andes.

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. To form, these icy spikes require bright sustained sunlight, and also cold, dry, 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.

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

We haven't seen images of Europa that were detailed enough to determine the details of the texture on its surface. This bolsters the idea that there's something waiting on Europa's surface to tear incoming spacecraft to shreds.

You might not think it when you peer out at an ice-covered lake in the dead of winter, but perfectly flat, smooth ice is actually somewhat rare. NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft is scheduled to launch at some point between 2022 and 2025.

"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.

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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