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Huge spikes of ice threaten Europa landing

Posted on Saturday, 23 March, 2013 | Comment icon 19 comments | News tip by: seeder

Image credit: CC 3.0 Mark Sanderson

A future Europa mission may need to contend with deadly jagged ice spikes littering the surface.

Jupiter's icy moon is a strong contender for a future space mission due to the possibility that it hides a vast ocean of liquid water. Sending a spacecraft to Europa and landing on the surface is a difficult proposition in itself, but now scientists have pointed out that huge spikes of ice known as 'penitentes' may pose a deadly hazard to any probe attempting to touch down. Similar ice spikes can be found on Earth in high altitude regions such as the Andes.

Penitentes form when irregularities in the snow are enhanced by the energy from the Sun, creating deep furrows. The debate is on over whether similar conditions could exist on Europa. "The Sun is always coming down straight from above on Europa," said Dr Daniel Hobley. "From our point of view, if the surface of Europa is subliming - if it is being sculpted by the sunlight - it will form these features."

"Jupiter's icy moon Europa is a prime target for future space missions as it harbours a buried ocean that could have the right conditions for life."

  View: Full article |  Source: BBC News

  Discuss: View comments (19)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #10 Posted by psyche101 on 26 March, 2013, 9:23
Do we need to "land" as such? Could we send something with a strong shield in at high speed and bury it in the ice seeming as we need to get through quite a few kilometers of Ice already?
Comment icon #11 Posted by seeder on 28 March, 2013, 18:12
I think that fact alone will make it a very difficult task. When the Russians drilled lake Vostok, well they used drills! 20 years drilling for for 40 liters of juice! So we need something that can get in lots quicker...obviously perhaps! Now for a vid, and despite the title its nothing to do with the AA crowd! 'Aliens of the Deep & Mission to Europa' quote: "Wherever we find water on earth, we find life"! (The Europa bit starts at approx 4.30 ms onwards but its all good to watch) But if they do it the way the vid proposes, how might th... [More]
Comment icon #12 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 28 March, 2013, 18:25
Absolutely yes we do. There is no point sending a probe through the ice into the ocean below if it can not transmit its findings back to Earth. That is going to require a transmitter on the surface to relay the signals either to an orbiter and then on to Earth or directly back to Earth.
Comment icon #13 Posted by CrimsonKing on 28 March, 2013, 18:40
What do you think would be the best way of getting through the ice waspie?Heat,crash through,drill?Do we have any idea if the cracks in the ice are much thinner than the rest or is it about the same thickness?
Comment icon #14 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 28 March, 2013, 18:55
To be honest I don't know. I suspect that the ice will be too thick to crash through. Some of the proposals for melting through the ice look promising, but the only exist on paper at the moment. I suspect that, unless we find some very thin ice, drilling is going to be out of the question. The weight of the boring equipment would be prohibitive. Besides if we do find thin ice. I think what this topic is really highlighting is the need for orbiter missions first, to map Europa's surface in enough detail that lnding missions can be planned an carried out with a high probability of s... [More]
Comment icon #15 Posted by CrimsonKing on 28 March, 2013, 19:04
I would agree with this,step by step approach if we just sent a lander first and it was destroyed when it landed BOOM wasted money,wasted time.As you said map it out first. Do you think the radiation or magnetic field from jupiter might make things harder?Im no expert on the issue but some things i have read in the past almost make sending anything electronic their impossible.
Comment icon #16 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 28 March, 2013, 19:11
It doesn't make things easy, but the Galileo probe survived nearly 8 years in orbit around Jupiter, so it is well within our abilities.
Comment icon #17 Posted by seeder on 28 March, 2013, 19:22
Going back to the Op, it says: "Scientists would like to send a lander down to sample surface regions where water wells up through the icy crust. These areas could allow a robotic probe to sample a proxy for ocean water that lies several kilometres deep". I guess if it does well up, and we will only know from fly-bys or orbital probes/satellites etc, that there is a small chance we could just do a scoop and analyze it. But its a big IF I can appreciate typos .
Comment icon #18 Posted by Artaxerxes on 8 April, 2013, 18:24
A thermonuclear device that goes into meltdown when it hits the surface and melts it's way to the water below.
Comment icon #19 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 8 April, 2013, 18:36
Ignoring the fact that nuclear weapons in space are banned by international law. You would send a scientific mission to another world, but nuke the surface first? Do you not think that totally annihilating the very environment you want to explore BEFORE you even land might just reduce the scientific returns of the mission to zero? Would this not make the entire mission pointless? Here's an idea, map the surface and land where there are no ice blades?

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