Underwater snow to help explore Europa’s ice shell

(ORDO NEWS) — Underwater snow is known to be quite common under Earth’s ice shelves, but a new study proves that it also exists on Jupiter’s moon Europa, where it is involved in the construction of the ice shell.

Underwater snow is much cleaner than other types of ice, so Europa’s ice sheet may be much less salty than previously thought. This is important for scientists preparing the NASA Europa Clipper mission.

The spacecraft will use radar to look under Europa’s icy shell and see if its ocean could be habitable. And salt can affect how deep the radar will see.

The study, published in the August edition of the journal Astrobiology, was conducted by the University of Texas at Austin, which is also developing the Europa Clipper ice radar.

Previous research suggests that the temperature, pressure, and salinity of Europa’s ocean under the ice is similar to that found under a glacier in Antarctica.

Scientists have found that the water under the glaciers freezes in the form of congelation and frazil ice. Congelation ice grows right under the glacier.

Frasile ice forms as ice flakes in supercooled seawater that settle to the bottom of an ice shelf. According to scientists, phrasing ice, which contains only a small fraction of salt, can be very common in Europe.

This means that its icy shell may be an order of magnitude cleaner than previously thought. This affects everything from the strength of the shell to what forces can set it in motion.

According to co-author Donald Blankenship, Senior Research Scientist at UTIG and Principal Investigator of the Europa Clipper Radar, the work done confirms the possibility of using the Earth as a model for studying the habitability of Europa.

“We can use the Earth to estimate the habitability of Europa, measure the exchange of impurities between the ice and the ocean, and find out where the water is in the ice,” he said.


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