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Recent Revelation of Ice Patterns Simplifies the Search for Life on Jupiter’s Moon Europa


A new discovery about ice formations on Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 moons, has led scientists to believe that searching for life there may be easier than previously believed. Europa is covered with a layer of ice 18 miles thick, with a salty ocean underneath. For many years, scientists have been unable to explore if there may be life in this water, as any probes sent there by NASA would have to drill through those 18 miles of ice in order to collect a sample.

Recent findings, however indicate that water may lie much closer to the surface in some areas of the icy moon. Photographs and radar soundings of Greenland, taken by NASA as they study the effects of climate change, have captured ice patterned in “double ridges” that are formed by water percolating from beneath, not far from the surface. Similar ice patterns are seen on Europa, indicating that it, too, may have areas with thinner ice that can be more easily drilled and explored for aquatic life.

Standards have long supported space programs and the research that they conduct, and the findings in this situation are no exception. Data collected during airplane flights over Greenland were connected to exact geographic locations, similar to the spatial positioning and information processing guidance in INCITS/ISO/IEC 18026, Information Technology – Spatial Reference Model. This standard allows precise and unambiguous specification of geometric properties including position (location), direction, and distance, and can be applied to mapping, topography, meteorology, and interplanetary sciences, among other applications. The InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS), a member and accredited standards developer of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), developed this American National Standard.

Some of the data revealing Greenland’s ice formations were collected with radar soundings, which measures atmospheric properties like pressure in order to gather meteorological measurements. Other information was gathering using highly precise cameras that captured the double ridge formations that was so critical for scientists. UL 2802, Standard for Performance Testing of Camera Image Quality, developed by ANSI member and audited designator UL, is one of many standards guiding camera performance to assure that the images taken were as clear and informative as possible.

NASA scientists are planning future launches where this icy moon can be investigated by spacecraft up close: in 2024, NASA will send the Europa Clipper up to get a better look, using a penetrating radar to search for water. Radioglaciology – the use of ice penetrating radar to study icy moons, glaciers, and more – uses radar at frequencies in the MF, HF, VHF, and UHF range. Radar-frequency band identification is guided by IEEE 521, Letter Designations for Radar-Frequency Bands, developed by ANSI member and accredited standards developer IEEE.

Beyond that, at a further date not yet determined, a proposed Europa Lander could drill into the ice and gather samples for analysis to determine if there really is water close to the surface of Europa – and possibly if life exists in those salty pools. Unmanned space explorations are supported by standards including AIAA S-117A, Space Systems Verification Program and Management Process, developed by ANSI member and accredited standards developer the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). This standard establishes a set of requirements for planning and executing verification programs for both manned and unmanned space systems.

Learn more about the recent discoveries related to Jupiter’s icy moon in Time: The Hunt for Life on Jupiter’s Moon Europa Just Got a Little Easier