Jupiter moon Europa’s possibly porous surface could doom a lander

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Placing a lander down on Jupiter’s doubtlessly life-supporting moon Europacould be even trickier than engineers had thought.

Europa’s floor could also be extraordinarily porous, so any probe that touches down there would possibly run the danger of sinking right into a kind of extraterrestrial quicksand, a brand new examine suggests.

Within the lab, examine group members measured the reflectance properties of assorted configurations of aluminum oxide powder — a great analog, they mentioned, for the fabric on the floor of brilliant, airless our bodies equivalent to Europa, which harbors an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy shell. [Jupiter’s Icy Moon Europa in Pictures]

They discovered that powder composed of very small particles with plenty of house between them — materials much less dense than freshly fallen snow, group members mentioned — shared a number of key reflectance traits with the precise Europan floor. 

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However the brand new examine is much from the final phrase on the topic, examine group members mentioned.

“After all, earlier than the touchdown of the Luna 2 robotic spacecraft in 1959, there was concern that the moon is likely to be coated in low-density mud into which any future astronauts would possibly sink,” lead writer Robert Nelson, a senior scientist on the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, mentioned in a press release. “Nevertheless, we should remember the fact that distant visible-wavelength observations of objects like Europa are solely probing the outermost microns of the floor.”

NASA has Europa in its sights: The company is creating a flyby mission to the icy moon, which is predicted to launch someday within the 2020s. This probe, referred to as Europa Clipper, will examine the satellite tv for pc’s buried ocean and assess its habitability utilizing a wide range of devices.

Congress has additionally instructed NASA to get a lander down on Europa. The company’s present considering requires launching a floor probe separate from Clipper.

The brand new examine seems within the March 1 problem of the journal Icarus.

Initially printed on House.com.

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