Publicado: Jue, Octubre 11, 2018
Ciencia | Por Aurelio Ontiveros

Jupiter moon mission may be hampered by giant ice shards, scientists warn

Jupiter moon mission may be hampered by giant ice shards, scientists warn

The presence of the penitentes - some reaching 15m into the sky - could "pose a hazard to a future lander on Europa", the researchers write in the new study.

"Here we calculate sublimation rates of water ice across the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa". Europa, the ice-covered Jovian moon where the existence of alien life hasn't been ruled out.

That's because Europa, like Saturn's moon Enceladus, features a vast subsurface ocean that could serve as a potential habitat for extraterrestrial life.

The moon is high on the list for future interplanetary space missions, but a new study suggests landing probes may have to navigate around some tricky obstacles.

Sublimation turns ice into water vapour without the ice melting into liquid first, and penitentes are then left following the sublimation process.

A team led by scientists at Cardiff University predicts shards of ice could be scattered across the surface.

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The research is reported in the journal Nature Geoscience.

On Earth, extreme cold and dry conditions such as those encountered in South America's Andes mountain range can cause massive deposits of ice to undergo sublimation and leave behind distinctive blade-like formations. In 2020, a mission is also being planned for Europa which would take high resolution images of the moon's icy surface and investigate its composition and structure of its interior.

No spacecraft has yet landed on Europa; however, NASA intends to undertake a number of flybys around the moon with the Europa Clipper, which will be launched in 2022.

It has the thermal conditions needed for ice to sublime without melting; and there is very little variation in the angle in which the Sun shines on the surface. This bolsters the idea that there's something waiting on Europa's surface to tear incoming spacecraft to shreds.

"If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper we will be ready for them", said Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science, at NASA Headquarters. It is believed a landing mission could follow soon after.

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