NASA Created Device to Search for Life in Extraterrestrial Oceans

Developing a rover to examine and observe the barren surface of Mars is quite difficult, but designing a robot to analyze the depths of the ocean of distant moons is completely arduous.

Researchers believe that satellites with water bodies such as Enceladus, Saturn’s Moon, or Jupiter’s Europa, have the perfect conditions for discovering alien life in the Solar System. Although future Mars expeditions may reveal fossils of ancient life forms aged billions of years, living organisms could have survived and still exist in the oceans of volcanically active moons.

The pursue of extraterrestrial life in other cosmic bodies’ oceans is charged with problems, especially since any probe has to navigate by itself beneath ice layers that could be up to 19 kilometers (12 miles) thick, through no signal could permeate.

However, NASA has now built its first aquatic rover which can submerge upside down under the ocean of ice, and it is scheduled to begin the first testings in the Antarctic Ocean.

The rover has been dubbed ‘Bruie,’ which stands for Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration. It has been created and built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) located in Pasadena and been sent to Antarctica for testing.

Exploring the Ice Oceans of Distant Worlds

Kevin Hand, a JPL chief scientist on the Bruie program, says that Europa and Enceladus are the best options to search and find life. He explains that the ice shells above these oceans serve as a window into what’s underneath, and the chemistry of the ice could aid in the attempts to find life withing those water bodies. 

“On Earth, the ice covering our polar oceans serves a similar role, and our team is interested in what is happening where the water meets the ice,” ​he added.

The rover is three feet long and is geared with two steady wheels to clutch on the underside of the ice cover. It can capture images and gather data of the crucial area where water and ice melt, known as the ‘ice-water interface.’

“We’ve found that life often lives at interfaces, both the sea bottom and the ice-water interface at the top,” said lead engineer Andy Klesh.

The rover is three feet long and is geared with two steady wheels to clutch on the underside of the ice cover. [Image: NASA/JPL]
The majority of underwater vehicles have a difficult time examining this particular region because ocean currents might make them collide, or they would lose power by maintaining the same position. Even so, Bruie utilizes buoyancy to remain fastened against the ice and is resistant to most currents.

The vehicle can power down as well, powering on again to make measurements, which means it could stay for months under the ice, examining the place’s conditions.

In the following weeks, researchers will perforate the ice and send the attached rover down into the water to test its network of gadgets, including its duo array of high-definition live cameras. The probe will also be equipped with numerous tools that will measure parameters associated with life, such as dissolved oxygen, the salinity of the water, pressure, and temperature.

The development of Bruie will continue, so it will manage several months at once under the ice, remotely navigate without a fasten, and observe the ocean at increased depths.

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