NASA Testing Underwater Alien Hunter in Antarctica in Preparation for Deployment to Alien Moons

Monday, 25 November 2019 - 10:57AM
Solar System
Monday, 25 November 2019 - 10:57AM
NASA Testing Underwater Alien Hunter in Antarctica in Preparation for Deployment to Alien Moons
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With the recent confirmation of water vapor being blasted into the atmosphere on Jupiter's moon Europa and the "building blocks of life" detected in icy geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus, trips to the dry, rusty surface of Mars are beginning to seem banal in comparison to the possibility of sending rovers to explore these icy giants. That possibility may soon be a reality: Science Alert reports that NASA is currently testing its Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration (BRUIE) in Antarctica's frigid waters in preparation for such a trip, most likely to Europa. 


Unlike the types of aquatic exploration vessels used on Earth, BRUIE's buoyancy allows it to drive upside down beneath ice sheets, rolling along like an inverted, cylindrical Roomba equipped with lights, cameras, various scientific instruments, and communication apparatuses allowing it to send and receive information as it searches for the sleeping cosmic deity that we have long warned against awakening from its cryogenic slumber. Perhaps it's due to my ever-declining attention span, but this seems like a much cooler mission than the ongoing hunt for the best Martian landscape picture captured by a rover.



Now, mind you, getting to the actual water won't be easy: despite the fact that NASA believes that Europa could contain two to three times as much water as Earth's oceans, the layer of ice isn't what you'd see at Miller's Pond when you go back home this Christmas to go ice-skating and get drunk with your high school classmates who never left town. Europa is basically a giant snowball, which, according to Universe Today, is covered in a sheet of ice that be between 2 and 30 km (1.2 and 18.6 miles) thick. Consider this for a second: the Empire State Building is .23 miles tall. At its thinnest, Europa's ice is estimated to be five times that high. At its thickest, it would be roughly 1.5 times the length of Manhattan. So how would BRUIE stand a snowball's chance in Hell of getting to the center of this inhospitable frozen Tootsie Pop?


Naturally, the big brains at NASA have an idea for that: a nuclear powered tunnelbot, shown in an artist's conception below. 


(NASA)


Equipped with its own array of detectors, sensors, and communications devices, the tunnelbot would boast an "onboard 43-kWth reactor to melt a probe through 20 km of Europa ice and stop at the ocean (or lake if reached first)." BRUIE would then follow (and hopefully not lose contact...that's a lot of ice to try to transmit through) and begin its mission. The parameters of that mission will likely define themselves. "Once we get there," said Dan Berisford, an engineer working on BRUIE, in a statement to Science Alert, "we only really know how to detect life similar to that on Earth. So it's possible that very different microbes might be difficult to recognize."


Anything that can persist on a skyless iceball with only 13 percent of Earth's gravity and no atmosphere, in the sub-freezing depths of yet-unfathomable ocean beneath the weight of 18.6 miles of ice would be an incredible discovery, changing not only how we understand habitability, but life itself. That does, of course, assume that said lifeform is not a sleeping cosmic deity whose awakening will surely spell the end of humanity's reckless questing into the ice cells in which the ancient ones have been imprisoned. 



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NASA
Solar System