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An article in ScienceNews describes experiments on Earth about making a probe that can penetrate far enough into Europa’s surface ice to figure out what might be in Europa’s invisible ocean.

Credit: JPL-Caltech/NASA

Jupiter’s moon, Europa, looks just as desolate and uninviting as any other place in the outer Solar System. Its frozen façade is colder than the most frigid spot on Earth  by more than 100 degrees Celsius. Blasts of radiation sweep the surface. But beneath Europa’s inhospitable exterior, scientists think a vast ocean of liquid water flows. The moon’s seafloor might also bustle with activity from volcanoes and hydrothermal vents. If chemicals from the surface trickle down through the ice, as some scientists suspect, Europa could hold all the necessary ingredients for life.

Kevin Hand of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, says  “You’ve got incredible ecosystems of tube worms and crabs and fish and microbes [on Earth]. It’s anybody’s guess whether or not you’d find tube worms on Europa.”

The idea of exploring this vast ocean has launched a number of scientists on a quest for a space-ready ice drill. Somehow, such a device has to breach the moon’s icy shell — perhaps with blazing hot metal or the jagged teeth of a drill bit — and carry enough power for the job. The device has to be simpler and more reliable than anything used to bore through ice on Earth, and it will have to take care of itself — there’s no way to send a team of engineers to the far edges of the Solar System. And the entire ice-tunneling, power-toting, problem-free package needs to be light enough to launch beyond Earth’s gravitational grip. Research teams are now exploring the different approaches to penetrate, drill, burrow or melt through Europa’s icy shell.

Read more about these varied projects at ScienceNews.

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