Fields of sharp ice up to almost 15 meters in height could be dispersed in the equatorial regions of the moon of Jupiter, Europe, which could make it difficult to search for an alien life, scientists say.
Previous space missions have identified Europe as one of the most likely destinations to host life in our solar system, particularly due to the large seas of liquid water below its surface, researchers from the University of Cardiff said in the United Kingdom.
The new study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, suggests that any potential landing mission may have to overcome dangerous obstacles known as "penitentes" before landing on the surface of Europe.
The penitentes are tall, sharp swords and ears of snow and ice that point towards the midday sun. They are formed through a process known as sublimation, which requires intense and sustained sunlight, as well as cold, dry and quiet air.
Sublimation is a process by which ice is transformed directly into water vapor without first melting into a liquid. When sublimation occurs, these peculiar blade formations are left behind.
"Europe's unique conditions present both exciting exploration possibilities and potential insidious dangers," said Daniel Hobley of the Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences.
The Penitentes are present on the Earth and reach a height of between one and five meters, but are limited to the tropical and subtropical conditions at high altitude, as in the Andes.
Europe, however, has the perfect conditions necessary for penitentes to form more evenly – its surface is dominated by ice; has the thermal conditions necessary to sublimate the ice without melting, the researchers said.
There's a small variation in the angle where the sun is shining on the surface, they said.
Researchers used observational data to calculate sublimation rates at various points on the surface of Europe and then used them to estimate the size and distribution of penitents.
They concluded that the penitentes could potentially reach a height of about 15 meters with a distance of about 7.5 meters from one another.
It has also been deduced that the penitentes would be more common around the equator of Europe.
No spacecraft has yet landed on Europe; however, NASA intends to undertake a number of flights around the moon with Europe Clipper, which will be launched in 2022. It is believed that a landing mission can be followed shortly thereafter.
(This story has not been modified by the Business Standard staff and is generated automatically by a syndicated feed.)