A new study, published in the August issue of the journal Astrobiology, has projected that Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has pure snow that rises underwater to generate the moon’s icy crust, rather than falling from above.
“Underwater snow” is not an entirely extra-terrestrial phenomenon but is already a known fact on earth, where ‘fluffy accumulations of ice crystals’ also rise up beneath ice shelves.
Europa, which has deep oceans crowned with ice sheets, is seen as one of the best potential destinations for a future manned space mission. The additional good news from the study is the finding that the ice probably has a lower salt content and is more pure ice than had been previously thought, in line with ice formed from underwater snow on earth.
A new NASA mission, the Europa Clipper, will head off to study the moon in 2024.
“When we’re exploring Europa, we’re interested in the salinity and composition of the ocean, because that’s one of the things that will govern its potential habitability or even the type of life that might live there,” study lead author Natalie Wolfenbarger , a graduate student researcher at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, said in a statement.