Jupiter's Frozen Moon Is Studded With 50-Foot Blades of Ice


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Jupiter's Frozen Moon Is Studded With 50-Foot Blades of Ice

spooky effects of frozen carbon dioxide, also known as dry ice.) The transition can dramatically alter a surface. As ice evaporates, pockets of space emerge in the landscape. Eventually, the pockets deepen, producing towering spikes around them.

mission that studied Jupiter and its moons between 1995 and 2003, to study sublimation rates on Europa. They found that in some parts of the moon, sublimation was overcome by other phenomena, like a bombardment of tiny meteorites and particles from space, which smooth out the surface. But at the equator, conditions favored sublimation, which does the opposite.

“I would hope it would add something to peoples ability to picture what they might see if they were able to actually wander around on the surface—or, I guess, clamber around, given the spikes,” Hobley says. “A bit of a Google image search reveals some cool visualizations of the surface, but these come from people just assuming things would look like Antarctica and Greenland. Were showing that we can actually think about this scientifically, and we might see something much cooler and more exotic.”

s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is hesitant to put too much weight on the researchers predictions. She points out that the Galileo mission provided data on sublimation rates on a global scale, rather than a regional one. “Its a bit of a stretch to extrapolate that far,” Phillips says. “That said, its the only information we have right now, and so it does make sense to make a prediction and say, hey, these features are possible.”

, youre planning another trip to the Jovian system. The agency is preparing to send a spacecraft to Europa in 2020 to loop around the moon dozens of times and investigate all kinds of features, from the icy surface to the flowing ocean underneath. The mission, known as Clipper, will be equipped with imaging technology capable of spotting the icy blades at the moons equator, if they exist.

Hobley and his fellow researchers suggest that penitentes on Europa could pose a hazard to other types of spacecraft, like landers. NASA has proposed a lander mission, but the concept is still being studied. If penitentes are indeed crowded around the equator, engineers could easily avoid them by landing somewhere else. 

“Its hard to be sure exactly what this would do to the strength of them, but doubtless it would make the spikes more likely to break and fall over,” Hobley says. “The bigger they grow, the more likely it is they will break and collapse, too.”

Until a spacecraft arrives at Europa, Hobleys prediction provides an exciting picture for other scientists who study the moon. Xianzhe Jia, a planetary scientist at the University of Michigan who recently used Galileo data for his own research: finding evidence of plumes of vapor shooting out of the Europan surface.

“I personally think that Europas surface is going to be a revolution,” she says. “I think its going to look completely unlike anywhere else that weve landed.”

By: The Atlantic

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