A deadly bed of icy javelins could be awaiting any spacecraft that tries to land on some parts of the ice-covered world Europa, say researchers who have carefully modeled the ice processes at work on parts of the Jovian moon to detect features beyond the current low resolution images.
If the prediction of long vertical blades of ice is correct, it will not only help engineers design a lander to tame or avoid the sabers, but also help explain a couple of nagging mysteries about the strange moon.
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Currently, the very best images of Europa only see 10 meters per pixel, at best, said Daniel Hobley of the University of Colorado. That means that if giant ice daggers do exist, they could still be several meters long and still escape detection.
To learn more, Hobley and his colleagues looked to Chile, where high in the mountains there are peculiar icy features called penitentes that are not found in polar regions.
"Penitentes are very, very sharp blades and spikes of ice," said Hobley. "They are famously well developed in Chile and only develop in the tropics on Earth."