One of the most promising places to find life in the solar system beyond the earth is Europe, Jupiter’s fourth smallest moon. But even though scientists suspect that the flood of the moon can accommodate living organisms, it is protected by a solid ice layer that can be as much as 30 kilometers deep.
Now, scientists at NASA’s Glenn Research COMPASS team have developed an idea for a probe that could access that ocean: a nuclear powered tunnel that could dig through the moon’s ice-cold shell to distinguish its composition and possibly reach the watery darkness below it .
The researchers drew two versions of the “tunnel bottom”, one of which would use a small nuclear reactor and the other would use a “radioactive heat source module”. In both cases, the tunnel bottom would use excess heat from its reactors to melt the ice as it descended.
When it went, the tunnel went to analyze the ice and search for signs of current or extinct life, reporting back to earth with a fiber optic cable connected to communications equipment on Europe’s surface. It would even be equipped to explore lakes buried in the ice before reaching Europe’s depths.
The NASA-sponsored research is just a conceptual study. Using it would require years of work and comprehensive precautions to harm any ecosystems on Jupiter’s moon ̵
1; not to mention finding a way to transport heavy cuts to Europe.
“We did not worry how our submarine would make it to Europe or be deployed in the ice,” said Andrew Dombard, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who worked on the concept. “We just assumed it could get there and we focused on how it would work during descent to the ocean.”