A recent internal JPL study envisions EELS and the lander as part of a larger overall mission, which would also include a melt probe and an Enceladus orbiter, which would relay data from the surface craft back to Earth. In addition, extensive linear cracks and scarpswere observed. SESAME ultimately envisions a nuclear-powered "penetration system" capable of getting 9 miles down within three years of operation. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. If you're a fan of ocean moons, the next few decades could be a lot of fun. Left unsaid by the scientists today is the equally tantalizing fact that Enceladus, Europa and, of course, Earth are not the only water worlds in the solar system. The two most intriguing are the Saturn satellite Enceladus and the Jupiter moon Europa, both of whose subsurface oceans are likely in contact with their rocky cores, making possible a variety of complex chemical reactions. "The resulting slush behaves like liquid despite being partially frozen, enabling a significant reduction of the power required for melting the full volume of ice.". From the moment astronomers began closely observing the small Saturnian moon, they noticed an odd bulge in the planet’s outermost ring — the E ring — that seemed to be following Enceladus through its orbits. The energy and time are available on lots of planets and moons. And such sterilization will be tough to achieve, given the complexity of the hardware. All Rights Reserved. (Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute). Howell said that most of the important required penetrator technologies probably won't be ready to fly for at least another 10 to 15 years. These teams are working on penetrator designs or other aspects of the larger system. This drill, whose weight is capped at 440 lbs. NY 10036. It took until now for the data to be fully analyzed and it was the relatively high concentration of hydrogen that was the breakthrough finding. So, stay tuned. Both six-wheeled robots will search for signs of ancient Mars life, and NASA's craft will also collect and cache promising samples for eventual return to Earth, with an arrival here perhaps occurring as early as 2031. Researchers are therefore investigating the possibility of deploying puck-like modems behind the drill as it descends, Tom Cwik of JPL noted in an AGU presentation. To access these subglacial areas, a probe must melt through up to … All About Space magazine takes you on an awe-inspiring journey through our solar system and beyond, from the amazing technology and spacecraft that enables humanity to venture into orbit, to the complexities of space science.View Deal. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. This will not be easy, for Europa's ice shell is a formidable barrier: Scientists think the shell is probably between 9 miles and 16 miles (15 to 25 kilometers) thick, so a Europa ocean mission would have to tote quite a powerful drill. What’s true here, could be true there, too. Water pockets in the ice shell of Enceladus or Europa are interesting targets for exploration for possible signs of life. Receive news and offers from our other brands? Europa's ice shell is a dynamic environment — many researchers think a form of ice-based plate tectonics is active there — so a miles-long tether may well get sheared or snapped. And New York-based Honeybee is developing a hybrid drill system called SLUSH (Search for Life Using Submersible Heated), which uses both thermal and mechanical means to slice through ice. Please deactivate your ad blocker in order to see our subscription offer. Visit our corporate site. Sign up to receive the top stories you need to know now on politics, health and more, © 2020 TIME USA, LLC. The Martian surface is dry today (with a few possible seasonal exceptions), explaining the two rovers' focus on finding microfossils and other possible biosignatures from the ancient past. The oceans of Europa … OFFER: Save at least 56% with our latest magazine deal! And momentum is building to go out there and look for that possible life in a variety of ways — ideally, by getting life-hunting robots into one or both of those buried oceans. “We haven’t discovered organisms, but I am encouraged by the results.” Pressed by a reporter during the press conference for the amount of energy — or calories — they’ve counted, Glein actually had a readily relatable answer. ), Even if NASA doesn't end up approving such a mission, the geysers provide a way to sample the ocean indirectly. Although Jupiter’s moon Europa may harbor a vast, briny ocean, it probably lies beneath an icy shell estimated to be up to 100km thick. And, even though Clipper is not a life-hunting mission, there's a chance — albeit a very slight one — that the probe could detect biosignatures in the plume material, if the right ones are there to be found, mission scientists have said. Given the relative lack of craters on the smooth plains, these regions are probably less than a few hundred million … Two rovers are scheduled to launch toward the Red Planet this summer: NASA's Mars 2020 vehicle and Rosalind Franklin, a joint effort of the European and Russian space agencies. On a growing number of worlds very close to home, the chemistry plus the water, we now know, are abundant as well. Related: Ancient Mars could have supported life (photos). “If you have a salty ocean in contact with a rocky core, you have many of the ingredients for life.”, Read More: Jupiter’s Moon Europa Just Got More Interesting. Saturn’s sixth-largest moon was recently foundto be one of the most promising places for life in our solar system outside of Earth, perhaps even surpassing Europa in its prospects for habitability. ), The surface reconnaissance will help pave the way for a future Europa lander, which Congress has directed NASA to develop. "The drill heats up too much if you don't dump the heat somehow.". After arriving in orbit around Jupiter, Clipper will make dozens of flybys of Europa, characterizing the moon's ocean and studying its icy surface in detail, among other tasks. Much more important, the Europan plume was merely observed from Earth, while the one from Enceladus was actually tasted by Cassini’s on-board sensors when the spacecraft barnstormed the moon at a distance of just 30 miles (49 km). For example, a group at JPL is working on the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS), an autonomous, 13-foot-long (4 meters) snakelike robot that would spiral its way down the tiger stripe cracks until it reached liquid water. And something similar may be possible at Europa, which appears to sport a plume of its own. Write to Jeffrey Kluger at [email protected] Receive mail from us on behalf of our trusted partners or sponsors? However, Europa's putative geyser activity seems to be much weaker and more transient than that of Enceladus, whose powerful jets are on all the time. JUICE, a Jupiter orbiter, is scheduled to launch in 2022. The late 2030s are a realistic launch target for an alien-ocean explorer, should NASA choose to develop one. Indeed, Cassini flew through Enceladus' plume multiple times, and future life-hunting probes could do the same. Multi-cellular organisms — around Earthly thermal vents, these are typically worm, fish and crustaceans — could in turn feed on the microorganisms the methanogenesis supports. And there are reasons to be optimistic in this regard, she added, citing the selection of the Dragonfly drone mission to Saturn's huge moon Titan as evidence of the agency's willingness to take risks. Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year for 2020? Vote Now, You can unsubscribe at any time. There are other potential difficulties as well. (Titan also appears to harbor a buried ocean of liquid water, by the way. Arguably the most promising spot for accessing near subsurface liquid water pockets is right under the plume sources on Enceladus (and possibly also on Europa). NASA already has a mission to Europa in the works: a probe called Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in the mid-2020s. As the name suggests, that produces methane as a byproduct, another potential signature of biological activity. Now, in 2015, astrophysicists working on the Cas… By signing up you are agreeing to our, China Launches Mission to Bring Back Material From the Moon, Will Thanksgiving Be a COVID-19 Disaster? “The plume chemistry we’ve seen is roughly equivalent to 300 pizzas per hour.”.