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Jupiter’s Europa might be a spiky, unsafe place to land a ship

11 October 2018, 02:25 | Edward Lowe

Jupiter’s Europa might be a spiky, unsafe place to land a ship

Jupiter’s Europa might be a spiky, unsafe place to land a ship

Being one of the most promising planet moons that could host life, the study's findings may not prove to be good news. When lumps of ice sublimate, the jagged shards are left behind.

This is because of the large seas of liquid underneath the surface However, the team of researchers have found a potential problem with landing a spacecraft on Europa, due to the tall, sharp ice.

"The presence of sharp, blade-like structures towering to nearly 15 metres high would make any potential landing mission to Europa extremely precarious", he added.

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. 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.

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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.

Shards of ice 15 metres (50ft) high could exist on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, posing a threat to landing probes, scientists say.

You might not think it when you peer out at an ice-covered lake in the dead of winter, but perfectly flat, smooth ice is actually somewhat rare.

These blades could make it even harder for potential visitors to find signs of life in the moon's subterranean sea, which is seen as the likeliest place in the Solar System to contain extraterrestrial life.

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Lead author of the research Dr Daniel Hobley, from Cardiff University's School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: "The unique conditions of Europa present both exciting exploratory possibilities and potentially treacherous danger". Europa, the ice-covered Jovian moon where the existence of alien life hasn't been ruled out.

This image shows two views of Europa.

Sometime in the early 2020s NASA is planning on launching an orbiter to Europa called the Europa Clipper.

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