Ice shards 15 metres high 'cover' Jupiter's moon

The moon is on the list for possible space exploration. Pic NASA

"On Earth, the sublimation of massive ice deposits at equatorial latitudes under cold and dry conditions in the absence of any liquid melt leads to the formation of spiked and bladed textures eroded into the surface of the ice", explains the study.

Europa has previously been identified as one of the most likely destinations in our Solar System for finding extra-terrestrial life.

Any robotic spacecraft landing on the moon will have to navigate its way around lethal obstacles, a new study suggests. This process leaves behind distinctive, blade-like formations called penitentes.

The data it collected did not only examine the reflective properties of water, but could distinguish between how the organisation of the molecules absorbed infrared light, revealing whether it was looking at liquid water, water vapour or solid ice.

On Europa, the conditions are flawless for giant penitentes to form.

In a new paper published yesterday (Oct. 8) in the journal Nature Geoscience, researchers likened the environment at Europa to high altitudes on Earth. It should also give scientists a much better idea of what the surface looks like, and if it sees a bed of icy spikes, NASA will have to figure out how to deal with them for future missions.

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Now, all we can await is the 2-billion Europa Clipper mission, that is set to launch in the 2020s, which will see whether the icy moon can host life (for real).

Excitingly, the Europa Clipper mission may be a forerunner to a landing mission on the Jovian moon, in which a probe would drill through the icy surface and plunge into the dark ocean beneath.

"The unique conditions of Europa present both exciting exploratory possibilities and potentially treacherous danger", Dr. Hobley said.

Jupiter's moon, Europa, could be littered with massive "icy spikes" which would make future space missions hard if astronomers hope to touch down on the surface, according to a report published this week in Nature Geoscience.

"We hope studies like ours will help the engineers to develop innovative ways of delivering landers safely".

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