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posted by martyb on Tuesday October 09 2018, @10:14AM   Printer-friendly
from the bartender,-could-I-please-have-a-lander-on-the-rocks? dept.

Fields of five-story-high ice blades could complicate landing on Jupiter moon

Probes have shown that Europa's ice-bound surface is riven with fractures and ridges, and new work published today in Nature Geosciences suggests any robotic lander could face a nasty surprise [DOI: 10.1038/s41561-018-0235-0] [DX], in the form of vast fields of ice spikes, each standing as tall as a semitruck is long.

Such spikes are created on Earth in the frigid tropical peaks of the Andes Mountains, where they are called "pentinentes,"[sic] for their resemblance to devout white-clad monks. [...] Pentinentes[sic] have already been seen on Pluto. And by calculating other competing erosional processes on Europa, such as impacts and charged particle bombardment, the new work suggests the vaporization of ice would be dominant in its equatorial belt, forming pentitentes[sic] 15 meters tall spaced only 7 meters apart. Such formations could explain, the authors add, why radar observations of the planet dip in energy at its equator, the pentinentes[sic] scattering the response. But the ultimate proof of whether Europa's belly will be off limits to landing will come when the Clipper arrives in the mid-2020s.

[Update: It's penitentes. Ed.]

First it was slush. Now it's spikes. Attempt no landing there.


Also at Science News and The Verge.

NASA Releases Europa Lander Study 2016 Report
Amino Acids Could Exist Just Centimeters Under Europa's Surface

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by c0lo on Tuesday October 09 2018, @12:04PM (3 children)

    by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday October 09 2018, @12:04PM (#746389) Journal

    While nothing about all this rocket sciencey stuff is *easy*, I'd say this sounds like one of the less challenging problems to address:
    1 - Drop a big heavy projectile out of orbit to...

    Well, dropping may not be a problem (actually it may be one, considering Europa has a gravity 1.315 m/s²=1/7.5g, so simply "dropping" the projectile may be too little)
    But certainly getting that big heavy projectile to there is a problem, one that belongs to the "sciency stuff that is not *easy*".

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  • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday October 09 2018, @04:02PM (2 children)

    by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday October 09 2018, @04:02PM (#746477)

    Why assume it would be heavy? A suitcase nuke detonated a few stories above ground would probably do the job just fine - and your astronauts are already shielded against radiation anyway, just give it a few weeks before landing for the really "hot" fallout to decay.

    Even a conventional explosive airburst might well do the job - it's not like these things are strong enough to stand 5 stories tall on Earth, they're only managing it in 0.13g. Maybe two blasts - one airburst to knock things down, and a second at ground level to pulverise the rubble.

    Or better yet - just don't try to land on the spikes. It's not like the planet is entirely covered with them. And with no atmosphere to speak of, an orbiter can swing in extremely close to the surface to get lots of high resolution images of any potential landing sites before committing to a landing.

    • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Tuesday October 09 2018, @11:29PM (1 child)

      by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday October 09 2018, @11:29PM (#746701) Journal

      Why assume it would be heavy?

      Because I was replying to a "solution" which literally proposed 'Drop a big heavy projectile ...'

      A suitcase nuke detonated a few

      That's pretty similar with the Americans 'bringing freedom' to various nations

      Listen, is your final purpose to just land on Europa, or do you want to actually study it?
      'Cause if it's the latter, you might try to disturb it as little as possible, lest your 'observation' methods obtains data about an entity no longer in the original state.

      • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday October 10 2018, @06:20PM

        by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday October 10 2018, @06:20PM (#747072)

        Which is exactly why I ended on my "Better yet" answer.

        But if you're going to smash shit up instead - then you may as well do it right.