Space exploration is one of the great frontiers we still have not fully expanded upon. Agencies like NASA are continually working on finding potential places we might be able to explore. Two such places are Europa and Enceladus, two moons which are icy and may hold signs of life. Plans to land robotic spacecraft on places like Enceladus and Europa have long been an aspiration of many scientists. Unfortunately, new research shows that these moons may actually be too soft for spacecraft to land on.
The study was published in Icarus, a respected scientific journal, and was led by Senior Scientist Robert M. Nelson and members from NASA JPL. As much as we love science here, we’re certainly not experts in any way. The following quotes are from Universe Today and we’d suggest checking out their entire article and website at the link below.
For the sake of their study, the team sought to explain the unusual negative polarization behavior at low phase angles that has been observed for decades when studying atmosphereless bodies. This polarization behavior is thought to be the result of extremely fine-grained bright particles. To simulate these surfaces, the team used thirteen samples of aluminum oxide powder (Al²O³).
Aluminum oxide is considered to be an excellent analog for regolith found on high aldebo Airless Solar System Bodies (ASSB), which include Europa and Encedalus as well as eucritic asteroids like 44 Nysa and 64 Angelina. The team then subjected these samples to photopolarimetric examinations using the goniometric photopolarimeter at Mt. San Antonio College.
What they found was that the bright grains that make up the surfaces of Europa and Enceladus would measure about a fraction of a micron and have a void space of about 95%. This corresponds to material that is less dense than freshly-fallen snow, which would seem to indicate that these moon’s have very soft surfaces. Naturally, this does not bode well for any missions that would attempt to set down on Europa or Enceladus’ surface.
It’s all rather interesting and you can read more about it at Universe Today as well as the actual study if your brain can handle it. What do you think of these new findings? Let us know in the comments below, or on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.Source: Universe Today
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