Showing posts with label Tunnelbot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tunnelbot. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Scientists Proposed a Nuclear 'Tunnelbot' to Hunt Life in Europa's Hidden Ocean


Nuclear Powered `Tunnelbot’

To produce a path through the thick shell of ice, researchers’ are intending to send a nuclear-powered `tunnelbot’ to Europa to hunt for life. Being the 4th largest of Jupiter’s 53 moons, Europa has been considered as the best choice in the solar system to introduce alien life. Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon is said to be somewhat smaller than Earth’s moon. Europa circles every 3.5 days around Jupiter and is tidally locked similar to the Earth’s moon. In this manner it is on the same side, wherein Europa tends to face Jupiter all the time. It is presumed to have an iron core, a surface ocean of salty water and a rocky mantle resembling the Earth. This ocean unlike on earth is considered to be adequately deep covering the entire surface of Europa. Moreover being away from the sun, the surface of the ocean is said to be globally frozen all over. Specialists are of the opinion that the hidden ocean encircling Europa and warmed by powerful tidal forces owing to the gravity of Jupiter could have favourable conditions for life.

Extra-Terrestrial Life

The plan has been initiated by scientists at NASA. The concept is to drill into the moon with the help of nuclear-powered robot tunnelbot, in an attempt to locate signs of aliens. This effort would provide an opportunity of probing below Jupiter’s moon Europa. According to the researchers, it would give them some insight of any aliens lurking there. The water concealed below Europa seems to be the likely areas for hidden alien life which could be trapped in a crust of ice thereby making it tough to explore. Hence, the researchers’ are set on in drilling through the crust and navigate for extra-terrestrial life. The researchers are of the opinion that the icy crust tends to conceal a kind of liquid water ocean which vents through that crust and could deliver the essential heat and chemical ingredients necessary for life in that particular ocean.


To get some insight below the thick layer of ice, researchers of NASA Glenn Research COMPASS team which is said to be a team of scientists and engineers around the country and engaged in resolving problems for NASA, believe that they can come up with tunnelbot. A meeting of the researchers had been conducted in December with the American Geophysical Union wherein a proposal had been presented for a tunnelbot. The tunnelbot could utilize nuclear power for melting a path through the shell of Europa.

 This would be carrying a cargo which could be helpful in tracing for indications for existing/nonexistent life Researchers are of the opinion that the tunnelbot can be utilized as an advanced nuclear device or some radioactive `general-purpose heat bricks of NASA to create heat and power. However, the radiation could bring about some design challenges. The tunnelbot can move in the ice on the frozen moon, hunting for small lakes with the shell or signs of life in the ice. As it tends to get immersed deeper it would branch out into a fiber optic cable. This could rise to the surface, setting up communication transmit at a depth of 3, 6 and 9 miles.

Mystery & Challenge

Researchers have mentioned that when the tunnelbot reaches the liquid ocean it would arrange cables or launch a device to refrain from falling through and to lock itself in position. At this point of time it is at an initial speculative proposal. The payload to sample Europa’s water and ice or how to get the tunnelbot on the moon has not yet been reckoned out by the researchers. This seems to be a significant mystery and challenge. This plan poses as an amazing insight into the future robotic mission to Europa. Moreover, ultimately it would also explore to see if the distant moon tends to have any indication of life.

American Geophysical Union

The researchers had mentioned in a proposal at the 2018 meeting of the American Geophysical Union that they had performed a concept study for a nuclear powered tunnelbot which would navigate through the ice shell reaching the ocean. The tunnelbot would assess the habitability of the ice shell together with the underlying ocean. The researchers have observed that there would be some issues with the plan. It comprises of how the tunnelbot tends to get all the way to that part of the world to be navigated. They have noted on `how initial deployment on the surface would occur, though not addressed and seems to be a challenge for further progress.

Two Prospects

Based on this, they have considered two prospects, one which could be driven by a nuclear reactor while the other through heat source bricks. Both utilize heat produced from these sources for melting through ice sources. However another issue also arises from embedding deep in the world. It would be complex for message to be sent through the ice. This means that the robot would be carrying cable that could send messages to and fro, to Earth. Moreover, researchers would also have to safeguard that the tunnelbot would have to leave a cable or even float on reaching the ocean ensuring that the cable does not touch the water while digging through the ice.

Preparing Two Analyses

According to Andrew Dombard associate professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, thickness of the ice is likely to be between 2 and 30 kilometres. This could be a main hurdle for anyone to overcome to explore these areas and have some insight of bio-signature representative of life on Europa.

Mr Dombard together with his colleagues had come up with a solution and believed that a nuclear powered tunnelbot would be the best solution for this plan. Mr Dombard had commented that they were not worried of how the tunnelbot would get to Europa or get deployed in the ice. They had presumed that it would get there and hence focused on its operation of descent to the ocean. The space agency has stated that it is preparing two analyses, comprising of one which would be landing on the surface exploring the distant moon within the next year.