“Penitent Monks” on Europa

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“Penitent Monks” on Europa

On Jupiter’s satellite there may be conditions for the formation of calgaspores.

Since there is still no life on Mars, it would be nice to look for it on other objects in the solar system. One such potential location is Europa, a moon of Jupiter. Despite the fact that Europa is located quite far from the Sun and the temperature on its surface does not exceed one and a half hundred degrees minus, there is every reason to believe that a huge ocean of liquid water is hidden under a thick ice crust.

Photo: NASA/JPL/DLR – Calgaspora (penitent monks) on the Chainantor plateau, Chile. Photo: ESO/Wikimedia Commons ‹ › View full size

Unusual Europa has so attracted the attention of researchers that in the mid-2020s NASA plans to send the Europa Clipper interplanetary station to it for a detailed study of the surface. In addition, the possibility of sending a lander to Europa, the main purpose of which will be to search for possible biomarkers, is being discussed. And although the final decision regarding the launch of such a probe has not yet been made, some researchers have already become concerned with the question of where it is better to land the device. And to be more precise, where you shouldn’t plant it.

It turns out that some areas on the surface of Europa are not at all suitable for planting, because they are fields literally covered with ice needles up to 15 meters high. There are similar objects on Earth, and they are called kalgaspores, or penitent monks. Calgaspores are formed under specific conditions due to the difference in the rate of sublimation of ice or snow from the vertical edges of calgaspores and the horizontal “bottom”. This process requires dry air, no melting, and most importantly, as vertical sunlight as possible. That is why “penitent monks” can only be found in high mountain areas closer to the equator.

Similar conditions may exist on Europa, especially considering that its entire surface is one large continuous glacier. Since the average age of surface ice is estimated at 50 million years, during this time European calgaspores could have grown up to 15 meters in height. You just need to understand that, strictly speaking, it is not the calgaspores that grow upward, but the mass of ice, evaporating unevenly, forming such structures.

The existence of such objects on Europa is indirectly confirmed by some anomalies in the reflectivity of the surface in the equatorial regions. In other words, areas closer to the equator absorb more light than they would absorb if the surface were the same everywhere. This anomaly can be explained if we assume that calgaspores at the equator act as a kind of trap, in which part of the light gets entangled and is not reflected back.

It is quite logical that an attempt to land a probe on a surface strewn with multi-meter ice needles is unlikely to lead to anything good. Although the existence of calgaspores on Europa is still only a hypothesis, it is already clear how important it is to take into account such seemingly unusual phenomena when planning interplanetary missions.

Based on Nature Geoscience.

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Jack Bryant

dynamic individual with a diverse range of passions and expertise. From his early days as a machinist and USAF aircraft mechanic to his thrilling adventures as a race car driver, Jack has always had a knack for pushing boundaries. With a BS in Business, he combined his love for motorcycles and storytelling, becoming a motorcycle folklorist and futurist, uncovering the rich tales of the open road. Today, Jack thrives as a senior software engineer, applying his analytical mindset and problem-solving skills to create innovative solutions. With an unwavering drive for excellence, he continues to embrace new challenges and shape the technological landscape.