One of Jupiter's moons, Europa, has an environment that scientists think can support life, but landing there would be a challenge.
According to a new study, certain places on the surface of the icy world are covered in rough and jagged ice spikes as sharp as blades. This, researchers believe, will make it difficult for future probes to navigate.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
NASA is already laying out plans to further explore Europa and its oceans. The space agency has announced the Europa Clipper, a spacecraft that will be launched by 2022 to make a flyby and possibly zoom into the natural satellite's geysers that spew water from underneath the icy, solid crust. A lander that will land on the surface of Europa is also being planned much later in the future.
However, before all that, scientists have to first figure out how to navigate the icy world, particularly the massive ice spikes located at its equatorial belt.
The Sharp Spikes Of Europa
With the recent interest of the scientific community to further explore Europa in search of alien life, a team of researchers wanted to see what it would be like to land on the natural satellite. To do that, the team look at Earth as a guide.
"On Earth it's pretty unusual to find completely flat ice," explained Daniel Hobley, a geologist and planetary scientist from Cardiff University. "Especially if it's left out in the Sun, that ice will be roughening it up."
The researchers focused on penitentes, a type of ice formation that only occurs when the atmosphere is thin and the air is very dry. Penitentes also require extreme cold so that there is no risk of the ice melting.
A process called sublimation is also involved. This means that the ice does not turn into liquid when exposed to direct sunlight. Instead, the ice skips the liquid phase and immediately turns to water vapor.
It just so happens that Jupiter's Europa has the perfect conditions for these ice spikes.
Right now, there is no way to figure out whether the findings of the study is true. While the Galileo probe has taken photographs of the surface of the moon, the texture of the ice was unclear. The researchers hope that the Europa Clipper, which will fly close to the surface, will provide evidence of ice formations.