by Andrew Griffen October 8, 2018 (independent.co.uk)
• Jupiter’s moon Europa is often held up as one of the most promising places to discover extraterrestrial life. It is relatively near and has huge seas of liquid water under its surface, which could provide a home to those aliens. However, in a new research paper, Dr Daniel Hobley, from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences describes how treacherous the surface of Europa is for landing spacecraft or probes.
• “The presence of sharp, blade-like structures towering to almost 15 metres high would make any potential landing mission to Europa extremely precarious. We hope that studies like ours will help the engineers to develop innovative ways of delivering landers safely on Europa’s surface so that we can find out even more about this fascinating place, and potentially look for signs of extra-terrestrial life,” said Dr Hobley.
• These massive shards of ices, or “penitentes”, are formed through a process known as sublimation. That turns ice into water vapor without melting into a liquid between the two, and leaves behind those blade-like formations that point right up into the sky. Europa has the right thermal conditions for this sublimation to occur, and the sun always shines at the same angle towards the surface. Penitentes between one and five metres tall do grow on Earth, but are restricted to extreme areas such as the Andes Mountains.
Towering blades of ice could get in the way of our search for alien life, scientists have warned.
Jupiter’s moon Europa is often held up as one of the most promising places to discover extraterrestrials. It is relatively near and has huge seas of liquid water under its surface, which could provide a home to those aliens.
Scientists hope to eventually land a spacecraft on that icy crust and drill down beneath it to see whatever is lurking in the oceans below.
But on that same alien surface are vast shards and daggers of snow that could destroy any craft that attempted to land there, scientists have warn. Reaching almost 15 metres tall, the blades of sharp ice could be a fatal barrier to any attempt to meet that extra-terrestrial life.
Any potential landing mission would have to navigate those “penitentes” before it could drop onto the surface.
0.53-minute video on ice shards on Europa
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