Friday, December 09, 2005
Explore Europa with a Robotic Sub!
Photo Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
You guys gave great close guesses. The picture taken by the Galileo spacecraft as it flew by Europa is very similar to those taken in the Artic and Antarctic regions of Earth. The large structures in the picture resemble large ice rafts or icebergs that have broken apart and moved around. The stuff in the middle or between these ice rafts looks like the surface of an ocean that has repeatibly melted and froze many times. Scientists believe "it resembles the disruption of pack-ice on polar seas during spring thaws on Earth" (quoted from JPL webpage). This surface is indeed made up mostly of water ice. Doesn't it look like the surface of a liquid which has become frozen? The lines criss-crossing everywhere are believed to be cracks produced by the pressure exerted on the surface from the tugging by Jupiter's gravity.
These processes on Europa's surface are an extremely important finding for scientists. This image suggests that Europa has an ocean of water lying just beneath this icy surface. It also suggests that Europa has an internal heat source which helps keep the ocean from staying completely frozen. And where you have water and heat, what may you find?
Scientists believe its possible that Europa may harbor extraterrestial life forms in its oceans.
Now there are plans to send a spacecraft back to Jupiter to study Europa in more detail. Ultimately, scientists would like to probe beneath the ice and into this ocean with a Robotic Submarine, but such a mission is extremely expensive and technically challenging.
Will you students be the ones to design that robot when you are older?