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Europa’s Icy Shell may be made from Pure Underwater Snow

Pure underwater snow that floats up rather than dropping down may contribute to the formation of the famed ice moon of Jupiter’s shell. According to a recent research, which was published in the August edition of the journal Astrobiology, the frozen crust of Europa’s may have been partially formed by “frazil ice,” a fluffy buildup of ice crystals that similarly forms underneath ice sheets on Earth. This frazil ice contains just a small portion of the salt present in the ice that forms on the ice shelf, raising the possibility that ice sheets contain less salt than previously thought.

As we explore Europa’s, Natalie Wolfenbarger, a graduate student researcher at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, said in a statement, “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.” One of the solar system’s most interesting objects for astrobiologists is Europa’s. According to NASA, the moon is covered in an ocean that is 40 to 100 miles deep and is topped by an ice crust that is 10 to 15 miles thick.

The moon Europa’s is an attractive area to look for extraterrestrial life because, while being just 25% the size of Earth, its ocean on the surface may contain twice as much water as all of Earth’s seas. To examine the ice moon and determine if it may be a potential home for life, a new NASA spacecraft called Clipper is scheduled to launch in October 2024. Scientists from the University of Texas at Austin are in charge of developing the ice-penetrating radar instrument for Europa’s Clipper, which will see through the ice sheet and the ocean immediately below it.

The researchers intended to comprehend the potential structure of the ice sheet as part of that endeavour. They used Earth as an analogy, looking at the two main ways that ice forms beneath the ice sheets of Antarctica. Congelation ice is one kind that develops from the ice shelf’s surface. The second type of ice, known as frazil ice, develops in frigid saltwater and floats upward as flakes like reverse snow before being stuck beneath the ice sheet.

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