Tag: Europa

NASA to Use a Steam-Powered Robot to Explore Icy Moons that Could Host Alien Life

Article by Chris Ciaccia                              June 30, 2020                                  (foxnews.com)

• NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes on its website that researchers are developing a soccer-ball sized robot known as SPARROW (Steam Propelled Autonomous Retrieval Robot for Ocean Worlds) that “would use steam propulsion to hop across the sort of icy terrains found on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.”

• “The terrain on Europa is likely highly complex,” said Gareth Meirion-Griffith, JPL roboticist and the lead researcher of the concept. “It could be porous, it might be riddled with crevasses, there might be meters-high penitentes” – long blades of ice known to form at high latitudes on Earth – “that would stop most robots in their tracks. But SPARROW has total terrain agnosticism; it has complete freedom to travel across an otherwise inhospitable terrain.” By using steam to power the robot, SPARROW could thrive in the “low-gravity environment” of Enceladus and Europa, hopping “many miles over landscapes that other robots would have difficulty navigating.”

• Enceladus and Europa both likely have oceans that exist under a layer of ice crust. In 2019, researchers determined Enceladus’ ocean is likely 1 billion years old. In 2018, researchers acknowledged they had found complex organic molecules, the “building blocks” for life on Enceladus.

• The SPARROW concept is dependent upon a lander to serve as a home base, which would “mine ice and melt it”, later heating it to create the steam necessary to power the SPARROW. It’s possible “many SPARROWs could be sent together, swarming around a specific location or splitting up to explore as much alien terrain as possible,” says NASA.
• In June, NASA announced the latest mission in its New Frontiers program known as Dragonfly, to explore Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, which could also potentially host extraterrestrial life. NASA has also confirmed a future mission to Europa.

 

  Gareth Meirion-Griffith

NASA’s plans to explore the ice moons of the Solar System are getting more detail as the space agency is developing a robot that would use steam to power itself in deep space.

In a post to its website, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory notes researchers are developing a soccer-ball sized robot known as SPARROW (Steam Propelled Autonomous Retrieval Robot for Ocean Worlds) that “would use steam propulsion to hop across the sort of icy terrains found on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus.”

“The terrain on Europa is likely highly complex,” said Gareth Meirion-Griffith, JPL roboticist and the lead researcher of the concept, in the statement. “It could be porous, it might be riddled with crevasses, there might be meters-high penitentes” – long blades of ice known to form at high latitudes on Earth – “that would stop most robots in their tracks. But SPARROW has total terrain agnosticism; it has complete freedom to travel across an otherwise inhospitable terrain.”

Both moons have been mentioned as candidates to possibly host life previously, including one study published in December 2019 that suggested they could be “indigenous.”

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NASA Says Milky Way Could Have ‘Ocean Worlds’ All Over

Article by Chris Ciaccia                          June 22, 2020                              (nypost.com)

• NASA researchers have published a study in the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific saying that more than a quarter of the 53 exoplanets outside our solar system may be “ocean worlds” having significant amounts of water.

• “Plumes of water erupt from Europa and Enceladus, so we can tell that these bodies have subsurface oceans beneath their ice shells and they have energy that drives the plumes, which are two requirements for life as we know it,” said the study’s lead author Lynnae Quick, a NASA planetary scientist. “So if we’re thinking about these places as being possibly habitable, maybe bigger versions of them in other planetary systems are habitable too.” As such, Europa and Enceladus, moons that orbit Jupiter and Saturn, respectively, are icy celestial bodies that could harbor extraterrestrial life.

• Quick and the other researchers looked at exoplanets similar in size to Earth, along with exoplanets’ density, orbit, temperature, mass and distance from their star to reach their conclusions. These “ocean worlds” could release more energy than even Enceladus and Europa.

• Although studies tend to focus on exoplanets like ours that have a global biosphere so abundant it’s changing the chemistry of the whole atmosphere, NASA Goddard astrophysicist and study co-author Aki Roberge says, “(Within our) solar system, icy moons with oceans, which are far from the heat of the Sun, still have shown that they have the features we think are required for life.”

• Future missions searching for exterritorial life within our solar system include the Europa Clipper mission set to launch as soon as 2023, which will explore the surface of Europa. “If we find chemical signatures of life, we can try to look for similar signs at interstellar distances,” Quick added.

• As of June 2020. More then 4,000 exoplanets have been identified, approximately 50 of which were believed to be potentially habitable. A study published earlier this month suggested that there could be 36 alien civilizations in the Milky Way (see ExoArticle here). Another study this month suggested there could be as many as 6 billion “Earth-like” planets in the galaxy (see ExoArticle here).

 

                Aki Roberge

A newly published study from NASA researchers suggests that there may be planets in the Milky Way galaxy other than Earth that have an ocean.

The research, published in Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, notes more than a quarter of the 53 exoplanets — planets outside the Solar System — that were studied could potentially be “ocean worlds,” planets that have significant amounts of water.

                          Lynnae Quick

“Plumes of water erupt from Europa and Enceladus, so we can tell that these bodies have subsurface oceans beneath their ice shells and they have energy that drives the plumes, which are two requirements for life as we know it,” Lynnae Quick, NASA planetary scientist and the study’s lead author, said in a statement. “So if we’re thinking about these places as being possibly habitable, maybe bigger versions of them in other planetary systems are habitable too.”

Europa and Enceladus, moons that orbit Jupiter and Saturn, respectively, are icy celestial bodies that could potentially be home to extraterrestrial life.
Quick, who specializes in volcanism and ocean worlds and the other researchers looked at exoplanets similar in size to Earth, including a group of seven in the TRAPPIST-1 system, 39 light-years from Earth. A light-year, which represents distance in space, is the equivalent of about 6 trillion miles.
In addition to size, they looked at density, orbit, temperature, mass and how far the planets are from their star to come up with their conclusions.

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Astronomers Have Formula for Finding Subsurface Oceans in Exomoons

Article by Erik Arends                             April 23, 2020                            (phys.org)

• In the search for extraterrestrial life, we have typically looked at Earth-like planets at a distance from their parent star where the temperature is between the freezing and boiling point of water. But as in our own solar system, most of the liquid water seems to be outside of this ‘habitable zone’ on moons where interior water is heated beyond the melting point by tidal forces.

• In our solar system only Mars and Earth have ‘habitable’ surfaces. But moons within our solar system, such as Enceladus, Europa and six other moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, are examples of celestial bodies that are freezing cold on the surface but may harbor habitable subsurface oceans.

• Researchers from SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research and the University of Groningen (RUG) have derived a formula that indicates whether a subsurface ocean is present on an ‘exomoon’ and how deep it is. Adding moons to the equation, exoplanet hunters have a much larger field of potentially habitable places to search for extraterrestrial life. In fact, “there could be four times as many habitable exomoons as exoplanets,” says lead author Jesper Tjoa.

• The formula analyzes factors including the diameter of the moon, the distance to its planet, the thickness of the gravel layer on the surface, and the thermal conductivity of the ice or soil layer below the surface to provide a lower limit for the ocean depth.

• Just as “astronomers study starlight shining through the atmospheres of exoplanets” to identify oxygen, for example, says Tjoa, future telescopes “may see geysers like on Enceladus, stemming from a subsurface ocean”, as an indication of life there.

 

So far, the search for extraterrestrial life has focused on planets at a distance from their star where liquid water is possible on the surface. But within

              Jesper Tjoa

our Solar System, most of the liquid water seems to be outside this zone. Moons around cold gas giants are heated beyond the melting point by tidal forces. The search area in other planetary systems therefore increases if we also consider moons. Researchers from SRON and RUG have now found a formula to calculate the presence and depth of subsurface oceans in these ‘exomoons.”

In the search for extraterrestrial life, we have so far mainly looked at Earth-like planets at a distance from their parent star where the temperature is between the freezing and boiling point of water. But if we use our own Solar System as an example, moons look more promising than planets. Enceladus, Europa and about six other moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune may harbor a subsurface ocean. They all reside far outside the traditional habitable zone—it is literally freezing cold on the surface—but tidal interaction with their host planet heats up their interior.

With moons entering the equation, exoplanet hunters such as the future PLATO telescope—which SRON is also working on—gain hunting ground regarding the search for life. When astronomers find a so-called exomoon, the main question is whether liquid water is possible. Researchers from SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research and the University of Groningen (RUG) have now derived a formula telling us whether there is a subsurface ocean present and how deep it is.

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