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NASA Announces Nuclear-Powered Tunnelbot to Explore Jupiter's Europa

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NASA scientists just proposed the idea of using a nuclear-powered tunnelbot to explore the seas of the icy moon Europa.

According to reports, NASA just proposed sending a nuclear-powered tunnelbot to Europa. The bot would explore not just its surface but its vast ocean believed to contain alien life. NASA proposed the idea during an American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, D.C as a part of a solution to penetrate the thick icy surface covering the moon.

“Estimates of the thickness of the ice shell range between 2 and 30 kilometers (1.2 and 18.6 miles), and is a major barrier any lander will have to overcome in order to access areas we think have a chance of holding biosignatures representative of life on Europa,” Andrew Dombard, an associate professor of Earth and Environmental Science from the University of Illinois in Chicago, said.

Both Dombard and his spouse, D’Arcy Meyer-Dombard, are part of NASA’s Glenn Research COMPASS team. This is a group of multidisciplinary scientists and engineers working on designing new technologies for future space exploration.

The Nuclear-Powered Tunnelbot to Explore Europa

According to a concept study conducted by Dombard and his team, a nuclear-powered tunnelbot could penetrate through Europa’s ice shell. This would enable it to reach the ocean underground. Aside from that, the bot could also evaluate the habitability of the moon’s ice shelf.

Dombard said that they performed the concept study assuming that the bot actually reached Jupiter’s fourth smallest Galilean moon.

If the idea comes to fruition, the bot would conduct a series of experiments to look for extraterrestrial life. This would include gathering samples from Europa’s ice shelf, liquid ocean, and the undersides of the ice shell itself.

Aside from the nuclear-powered tunnelbot, the researchers are also designing a bot that would be powered by General Purpose Heat Source bricks. While the two designs will make use of different approaches, both could be used to melt the ice shelf.

At the moment the tunnelbot is still a concept design awaiting NASA’s approval.

Do you believe that Europa’s ocean harbors alien life?

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Chelle Fuertes

Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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