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Between 1995 and 2003, NASA's Galileo spacecraft made several flybys of Jupiter's moon, Europa. Several findings from observations of the moon pointed to evidence of a liquid ocean beneath Europa's icy surface. The ocean, researchers believe, could harbor microbial life, or evidence of now-extinct microbial life.
While researchers generally agree on where to look – underneath the thick, planet-wide ice shell where water is in contact with a rocky core and where biochemical ingredients for life may exist – how to get there to collect samples remains a major tactical problem.
Estimates - Thickness - Ice - Shell - Range
"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," said 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 problem at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, D.C., this week: a nuclear-powered tunneling probe.
Dombard - Spouse - D'Arcy - Meyer-Dombard - Associate
Dombard and his spouse, D'Arcy Meyer-Dombard, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at UIC, are part of a group of scientists on the NASA Glenn Research COMPASS team, a multidisciplinary group of scientists and engineers tasked with designing technology and solutions for space exploration and science missions.
The group performed a concept study for a nuclear-powered "tunnelbot" that can penetrate the ice shell and reach the top of Europa's ocean while carrying devices and instruments that can be used to search for...
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