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Science And Nature

Underwater snow on the planet can offer insight into Europa’s icy crust

an icy moon with rugged surface

A graphic of Europa captured by NASA’s Galileo probe.(Image credit: NASA)

Studying unusual processes of how ice accumulates below ice shelves here on the planet could hold lessons for the exploration and habitability of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

In a fresh study, researchers studied two forms of underwater snow entirely on Earth being an analog for focusing on how Europa’s shell thickens from below. Frazil ice forms in supercooled water columns and floats upward to accrete onto underneath of ice shelves, while congelation ice grows directly from beneath the ice shelf. Intriguingly, the researchers determined that ice formed by these procedures retains only a fraction of the salt from the water that it formed. Frazil ice retains just 0.1% of the ocean’s salinity and may be common on Europa, based on the study, suggesting that Europa’s ice shell could possibly be orders of magnitude purer than previous estimates.

“When we’re exploring Europa, we’re thinking about the salinity and composition of the ocean, because that’s among the items that will govern its potential habitability as well as the sort of life that may live there,” the study’s lead author Natalie Wolfenbarger, a graduate student researcher at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, said in a statement.

Related: NASA spacecraft snaps gorgeous new photo of Jupiter’s moons Io and Europa

The brand new information could be of great value in informing upcoming exploration of Europa. NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is likely to launch in 2024 and reach the icy world in 2030, and the amount of salt trapped in the ice make a difference what and how deep the radar on the spacecraft can see in to the ice shell. Obtaining a good idea concerning the crust’s composition before arrival can help scientists seem sensible of the info following the spacecraft reaches work.

Europa is among Jupiter’s four large moons, or Galilean satellites, and is roughly how big is the Earth’s moon. Although it includes a rocky mantle similar to Earth’s, scientists think that Europa’s mantle is surrounded by way of a hidden ocean of water and ice between 50 and 105 miles (80 and 170 kilometers) thick.

Previous studies suggest the temperature, pressure and salinity of Europa’s ocean nearest to the icy crust is comparable to that found beneath an ice shelf in Antarctica.

The paper was published in the August edition of the journal Astrobiology.

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Andrew Jones

Andrewis a freelance space journalist with a concentrate on reporting on China’s rapidly growing space sector. He began writingfor Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist among others.Andrewfirst caught the area bug when, as a young child,hesaw Voyager images of other worlds inside our solar system for the firsttime.From space,Andrewenjoys trail running in the forests of Finland.It is possible to follow him on Twitter@AJ_FI (opens in new tab).

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