Giant, jagged 'ice spikes' cover Jupiter's moon Europa, new study suggests

Giant, jagged 'ice spikes' cover Jupiter's moon Europa, new study suggests

Jupiter's moon Europa is probably the most promising place in our solar system to search for signs of life beyond Earth.

Europa, however, has the ideal conditions necessary for penitentes to form more uniformly - its surface is dominated by ice.

In a recent study, researchers reported a new discovery, 50 feet tall "ice spikes" covering parts of the moon's surface.

There are examples of smaller ice shards which have formed from sublimation on Earth, but these are restricted to high-altitude tropical and sub-tropical regions like the Andes. "We find that surface sublimation rates exceed those of erosion by space weathering processes in Europa's equatorial belt (latitudes below 23°), and that conditions would favor penitente growth". 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. The spikes are caused by ablation of ice and are similar to the ice deposits around the Earth's equator known as penitentes, which would make any future missions to the moon tricky.

Research published this past July suggests scientists on the hunt for life will have a better chance of finding potential biosignatures in Europa's younger ice and in lower-radiation locations.

As we all might know, Jupiter's moon is called Europa and was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei.

If you're planning a trip to Jupiter's moon Europa, be prepared for a rough landing.

"The unique conditions of Europa present both exciting exploratory possibilities and potentially treacherous danger", said lead author Daniel Hobley, of Cardiff University. Europa, the ice-covered Jovian moon where the existence of alien life hasn't been ruled out.

Jeff Moore, a co-author on the study and a Planetary Geologist at NASA's Ames research Center in Mountain View, CA, notes that NASA's upcoming Europa Clipper mission, set for launch early in the next decade, could directly observe penetentes with its high-resolution camera, and measure other properties of these interesting objects with the spacecraft's other instruments. Dr Moore is a co-investigator on Europa Clipper.

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