Europa: Underwater Snow Reveals Clues About Icy Moon’s Ocean World

Underwater snow forms in the World Ocean and travels through the water to connect to submerged valleys and inverted ice caps, according to new research. This same phenomenon occurs beneath Earth’s ice shelves – and it may be how Europe builds its ice sheet.

The result was published on Monday in the magazine astrobiology, suggested that Europa’s icy crust may not be as salty as scientists first thought. Understanding the salt content of the ice crust is critical as engineers work to assemble NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft, which is preparing for launch to Europe in October 2024.

The Europa Clipper will use ice-penetrating radar to look under the crust and determine if the moon’s ocean is habitable for life. Any salt inside the ice crust can affect how deep the radar can penetrate, so predictions about crust formation are key.

Clues about the ice crust could also help scientists determine more about Europa’s ocean, salinity and ability to harbor life.

Europa’s ice sheet is between 10 and 15.5 miles (15 and 25 kilometers) thick, and likely lies on top of an estimated ocean 40 to 90 miles (60 to 150 kilometers) deep.

“When we explore Europe, we’re interested in salinity and ocean composition, because that’s one of the things that will judge its potential habitability or even the type of life that might live there,” said lead study author Natalie. Wolfenberger, a doctoral student researcher at the University of Texas Institute of Geophysics at UT Jackson’s School of Geosciences, said in a statement.

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Wolfenberger is also a graduate student and an associate member of the Europa Clipper science team. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are working to develop an ice-penetrating radar for the spacecraft.

Europa’s ocean closest to its atmosphere has a similar temperature, pressure, and salinity to the water beneath Antarctica’s ice shelves. Suggest previous search.

Researchers have studied two methods of freezing water under ice shelves on Earth: freezing ice and freezing ice.

What is the difference? Conglomerate ice actually grows from under the ice shelf, while frizzy ice drifts upward through ultra-cooled seawater in the form of flakes before settling under the ice shelf.

Both types produce ice that is less salty than seawater—and according to the researchers’ predictions, the seawater was less salty when they applied this data to the age and size of Europa’s ice sheet.

Frazel ice may be the most common type on Europe, making the ice crust much purer than previously thought. Frazel ice retains only a tiny fraction of the salt in seawater. The purity of the ice crust can affect its strength, ice tectonics, and how heat flows through the mantle.

Study co-author Donald Blankenship, a senior research scientist at the University of Texas Geophysical Institute, said of the current situation. He is the principal investigator for the Europa Clipper ice-penetrating radar instrument.

The discovery may indicate that the Earth can be used as a model for a better understanding of Yoruba habitation.

Previous missions have spied plumes of water vapor blasting through the ice crust, as shown in this illustration.

“This paper opens a whole new set of possibilities for thinking about ocean worlds and how they work,” Steve Vance, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. “It sets the stage for how we can prepare for the Europa Clipper ice analysis.” Vance was not involved in the study.

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Meanwhile, work is underway to flip the Europa Clipper spacecraft at the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The core, which is 10 feet (3 meters) high and 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide, took center stage in the clean room, where NASA teams assembled spacecraft such as Galileo, Cassini and the Mars rover.

The mission team is currently assembling the Europa Clipper on High Bay 1, a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory where other historic missions have been performed before launch.

Flight and scientific instruments will be installed on the spacecraft by the end of the year. Then, engineers will subject the spacecraft to a series of tests during the lead-up to launch.

The Europa Clipper will reach the Jovian moon in April 2030. Across nearly 50 planned Europa flights, the spacecraft will eventually travel from an altitude of 1,700 miles (2,735 kilometers) to 16 miles (25 kilometers) above the lunar surface.

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