The Jupiter will kill any mission NASA’s search for life, scientists warn

11 Octubre, 2018, 02:27 | Author: Enrique Watson
  • Jupiter moon mission may be hampered by giant ice shards, scientists warn

Any robotic spacecraft landing on the moon will have to navigate its way around the obstacles, a new study suggests. Jupiter's moon Europa is one of the most tantalizing. 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.

Jupiter's moon Europa has always been a major target for exploration because it harbors a salty water ocean beneath its icy crust.

Colour view of Europa from Galileo that shows the largest portion of the moon's surface at the highest resolution.

Penitentes are composed of snow and ice, and they arise through sublimation - a chemical process in which ice turns directly into water vapour without melting into a liquid beforehand.

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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. 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. 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. This bolsters the idea that there's something waiting on Europa's surface to tear incoming spacecraft to shreds.

In their study, the researchers used observational data to calculate the sublimation rates at various points on Europa's surface and thus used these to estimate the size and distribution of penitentes.

Further observations are needed to definitively prove that Europa's surface is covered in the penitentes, but that could come soon. It is believed a landing mission could follow soon after. Dr Moore is a co-investigator on Europa Clipper.

The technical requirements of such a mission boggle the mind, and now, with the news that Europa's surface may contain vast fields of penitentes, there's an added complication.

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