Nuclear "tunnelebot" might find life on Jupiter's moon Europe

From 1995 to 2003, NASA Galileo spacecraft took a few laps around Jupiter's moon Europa. Some results obtained during the observation of the moon, indicated the existence of a liquid ocean under the icy surface of Europa. The ocean, the researchers believe could harbor microbial life, or to keep the certificate extinct. While scientists generally agree on where to look for life - under a thick ice shell, where the water comes in contact with a rocky nucleus and where there may be biochemical ingredients for life.


But how to get there, to collect the samples, the researchers argue, and still.

Robot tunnelehod

"Estimates of the thickness of the ice shell is in the range from 2 to 30 kilometers and is a major barrier, which will have to overcome any lander to gain access to areas that, in our opinion, may contain biosignatures characteristic of life on Europa," says Andrew Dombard, associate professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Dombard and his colleagues presented a possible solution to this issue at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, DC, this week: nuclear tunneling probe.


Dombard and his wife D'Arcy Meyer-Dombard included in the group of scientists of the research team at COMPASS Research Center. NASA's Glenn, a multidisciplinary team of scientists and engineers engaged in the development of technologies and solutions for space exploration and science missions.

Scientists have conducted a conceptual study "tunnel robot" with a nuclear installation, which can penetrate through the ice shell and reach the top of Europe's oceans, incurring devices and tools that can be used to search for evidence of an existing or extinct life. The robot will also assess the habitability of the ice shelf.

"We have not thought about how the tunnel bot gets to Europe or unfold in the ice," says Dombard. "We just assumed that he would be able to get there and focus on how it will operate during the descent to the ocean."

Boat ice will have to collect samples throughout the shell, and water at the interface with ice water, and look at the lower part of the ice in search of microbial biofilms. The robot will also be able to look for liquid water "lake" in the icy shell. Scientists have examined the two designs for your bot: one is driven by a small nuclear reactor, the other brick General Purpose Heat Source - units, radioactive sources of heat, designed for space missions. The heat from both these sources can be used for melting ice shell. Communication will be provided by a chain of "repeaters" are connected with the bot fiber optic cables.

NASA regularly sponsors conceptual studies to check at what stage of development of technology are able to help us find answers to important questions in the solar system. Perhaps there is no more important question than "Is there life anywhere else?", And Europe is one of the best places to look. If the tunnel is planned mission, which of the two projects will be selected - it remains to be seen.

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