Europa voyage may have to stick the landing
If you’re planning a trip to Jupiter’s moon Europa, be prepared for a rough landing. In a new study published in the British journal Nature Geoscience, scientists say they’ve found evidence of huge, jagged “ice spikes,” some 50 feet tall, on the moon’s surface. The spikes would “pose a hazard to any future space mission landing on the moon,” according to the study. The spikes could be similar to those found in South America’s mountains. “In extreme cold and dry conditions on Earth, such as those encountered in the Andes, the sun’s rays can cause parts of the ice and snow to undergo sublimation – becoming water vapor without melting first,” the study said. This process leaves behind blade-like formations called penitentes. Evidence of penitentes also has been seen on Pluto, suggesting that such jagged terrains may be common on icy worlds – including Europa, where the spikes could be as close as about 20 feet apart, creating a “treacherous terrain” for potential landing craft. Due in part to its saltwater ocean, Europa is one of the more promising candidates for extraterrestrial life in our solar system, NASA said, so the moon has been targeted as a destination for a space mission in the 2020s.
Two views of Europa.