Jupiter’s moon, Europa, could be littered with massive “icy spikes” which would make future space missions difficult if astronomers hope to touch down on the surface, according to a report published this week in Nature Geoscience.
NASA has marked Europa as a prime candidate for extraterrestrial life in the solar system, and hopes to conduct further studies starting with the Europa Clipper mission sometime in the 2020s, the space agency said.
While this mission will see the spacecraft perform 45 flybys of Europa, the eventual goal would be to land on the moon, but scientists believe this could be more challenging than previously thought.
Conditions on Europa may be ideal for “penitentes” to form, which are spiky, bladed ice formations found on Earth at higher elevations such as the Andes Mountains.
These unique formations occur when ice remains in direct sunlight for a period of time, causing patches to transform from a solid into a gas, resulting in “sublimation-sculpted blades,” The Verge noted.
The study suggests that similar conditions exist on Europa, making it possible for the moon’s surface to feature jagged terrain.
These icy spikes could reach 50 feet in length and may sit at about 20 feet apart, making landing on the moon a tricky feat.
Jupiter has long fascinated scientists, who were astounded to discover 12 new moons around the planet, including a rogue “oddball” that seems determined to orbit in the opposite direction, kind of like a car going against traffic on the highway.
This means that 79 known moons are circling the giant gas planet, which is more than a third of all the moons in our solar system.
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