Nuclear-powered probe will explore ocean on Europa?
Scientists working with NASA have presented the concept of a nuclear-powered machine that would be able to access the ocean under a thick layer of ice on one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa. Researchers agree that the best place to look for traces of life in our cosmic neighborhood is right in the ocean of Europa.
One of the most promising places in the Solar System to look for extraterrestrial life is Europa, a moon of Jupiter’s. Researchers believe that the liquid ocean on the moon may contain some life forms, but access to it is well protected by a thick layer of ice, ktoThe project can be as long as 30 kilometers in some placesoin depth.
Between 1995 and 2003, the Galileo probe made several flybysoin over Europe. The very first findings from the observations indicated the existence of a traceoin the ocean beneath Europa’s icy surface. There was immediate speculation that the ocean could harbor life, extraterrestrial microbesow or at least there will be evidence of microbial life in the past.
Scientists ogolnie agree that it should be searched for under Europe’s thick ice crust. Where water is in contact with the rocky core and where biochemical components of life may exist. The problem is how to get there to retrieve probki.
– Estimates of the thickness of the ice crust range from 2 to 30 kilometersow and represent the mainoa major obstacle thatohe obstacle that any lander will have to overcome to gain access to the areaow, whichore in our opinion likely to have a biosignaloin representing life on Europa,” said Andrew Dombard, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Dombard and his colleagues presented a possible solution to this problem at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, DC. Their concept is a nuclear-powered tunnel probe. Dombard, along with cooThe researchers are members of NASA Glenn Research COMPASS, a multidisciplinary group of scientistsow and engineeroin those involved in designing technologies and solutions for space exploration.
The group presented a conceptual study for a nuclear-powered machine that wouldora can penetrate the ice crust and reach Europe’s oceans. The probe would have equipment and instruments on board, whichore can be used to study and search for signs of life. The study omitted the step of getting to Europe. – We simply assumed that it was possible to get there and focused on how to get down to the ocean – explained Dombard.
Photo. Alexander Pawlusik, LERCIP Internship Program NASA Glenn Research Center
A nuclear-powered machine under the influence of heat would melt lod located beneath it, thus creating aob tunnel, whichory moheads to break through the ice crust. While tunnelling, the probe would analyze the composition of nearby ice layers, as well as molten water. After possibly reaching the ocean, it could turn into anodive underwater and see what Europe hides.
Scientists have developed two versions of the device. One would use a small nuclear reactor and the other radioisotope thermoelectric generators. In both cases, excess heat would be used to melt the lod. Probnik or łoThe submarine would have to be hooked up to a lander standing on the surface with a fiber-optic cable to ensure communication with Earth. No signal has a chance of getting through such a thick layer of ice.
NASA is sponsoring such conceptual research. This is the best wayob to develop new technologies. Although the implementation process may require years of work. The concept presented with the tunnel melting machine, whichorym getting into Europe’s ocean, hidden under a thick layer of ice, may seem quite feasible, although some potential problems are apparent. Such a tunnel mowould destroy Europe’s possible ecosystem, not mowishing for a way to transport the heavy machine to Jupiter’s moon.