Europa, One of the Jupiter’s Moons, Presents Giant Ice Shards Of About 15 Meters High


Europa, one of the Jupiter’s moons, is one of the most promising worlds of our Solar System for the search for extraterrestrial life, primarily because of the vast seas of liquid water that hide beneath its icy surface. Also, new research published in the journal Nature Geoscience has revealed that any exploration mission to be sent there would have severe difficulties in landing. The reason is that the equatorial regions of Europa are dotted with vast areas of giant ice shards of almost 15-meter high. Any spaceship attempting to land there would have to navigate icy peaks as sharp as those of a razor.

The penitentes, as these formations are called because of their resemblance to members of Catholic processions, are like razors with sharp edges made of snow and ice that point up to the skies. According to scientists at Cardiff University, they formed through a process known as sublimation, which requires bright, sustained sunlight and cold, dry air.

Penitentes are present on Earth, too, and grow between 1 and 5 meters high, but are restricted to high altitude tropical and subtropical conditions. However, Europa, one of the Jupiter’s moons, has the perfect conditions for these giant ice shards to form more uniformly as its surface is dominated by ice.

Europa, one of the Jupiter’s moons, presents giant ice shards, known as penitentes, on its surface

In their study, the researchers used observational data to calculate sublimation rates at various points on Europa’s surface. Thus, they concluded that penitentes could grow to about 15 meters in height with a space of about 7.5 meters between them. The scientists added that these giant ice shards would be more common around the equator of the Jupiter’s moon.

No spacecraft has yet landed on Europa, but that’s something the US space agency want to achieve. NASA intends to launch the Europa Clipper mission in 2022. The spacecraft would fly over the Jupiter’s moon once every two weeks, providing many opportunities to investigate it carefully.

As the lead author of the research, Daniel Hobley, of Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, summarizes, “Europa’s unique conditions present interesting exploration possibilities but also a potential hazard. When in orbit, the NASA’s Europa Clipper mission could directly observe penitentes and measure their properties to pave the way for future landing missions.”


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