Europa’s surface is covered by giant ice spikes

The ice-strewn landscape of Europa could be treacherous territory for future probes expected to land on this moon of Jupiter. Astronomers say Europa’s surface near the equator is covered by large ice spike-like structures, potentially making this part of the moon unreachable for future missions.

Scientists believe Europa is one of the best places in our planetary system to search for life. DetailedoThe most tempting target is the salty ocean covering the moon. Space agencies are considering several concepts for lunar exploration missions. NASA has allocated two billion dollarsoIn the preparation of the Europa Clipper mission, whichora is expected to launch in the mid-2020s.

But possible missions thatore assume landings on this moon, they will face a serious problem, because the surface of Europa is covered with a forest of giant ice spikesoin with a height of as much as 15 metersow. The ice daggers occur every 7.5 meters or so, computer simulations show.

The results of the study were published in the journal „Nature Geoscience”.

Similar ice formations, but much smaller, can also be found on Earth. This so-called. penitents. On Earth, sublimation of massive decksoin the ice on the roin the northern latitudes – for example, in the Andes – in cold and dry conditions leads to the formation of sharp structures on the surface of the ice, resembling spikes. In other moIn other words, sunlight transforms snow or lod in a dry environment into water vapor without first melting it, forming penitentes. Researchers believe that similar processes also occur on Jupiter’s moon. Penitents have also been spotted on Pluto.

These formations have not been directly observed. This is prevented by the poor resolution of the photos, on which theorych can not see structures smaller than a house. But using data and images from previous missions, scientists developed computer simulations to see if penitents could form on Europa. Simulations have shown that conditions on this frozen moon can promote penitent growthoalong the ropenetrates.

– The unique conditions of Europa are shown in zarowno exciting exploration opportunities, as well as potential danger,” said the head of theoThe study’s lead author Daniel Hobley of the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Cardiff University. – Presence of sharp, dagger-like formations nearly 15 meters highow makes a possible mission with a landing on Europa extremely uncertain. We hope that studies such as ours will help engineers develop innovative ways to plant the lander safelyoon the surface of Europa so that we can learn even more about this fascinating place and look for signs of extraterrestrial life – added.

The existence on Europa of penitentoin could explain previous radar observations and strange temperature readings collected during earlier observations. Radar signals from the Arecibo Observatory, whichore previously mapped the surface of Europe showed considerable nierowibilities on the moon’s surface. Radar beams bounced between the spikes, introducing chaos in measurements of the.

But not all scientists agree with the results of the research. Kevin Hand of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, whichory was not involved in the study, is skeptical about the outcomeoin simulation. – In Europe moWe are talking about ice, whichory contains salts and all kinds of sulfur compounds. This significantly changes the concept of sublimation – said.

Few moonoThe solar system is as intriguing as Europe. It is slightly smaller than the Earth’s moon. However, scientists believe that there are huge amounts of liquid water on it. Perhaps even twice as much as there is on Earth. Beneath the icy, cracked crust of Europe, sits an ocean tens of kilometers deepow. Thanks to the temperature from inside the moon, the oceans can have conditions conducive to complex chemical reactions.

SourceoSource: Science News, Live Science, fot. ESO. Pictured are penitents in Chile