Is a possibility of sending floating robots to inhabited “ocean worlds” of the solar system

(ORDO NEWS) — NASA recently announced a $600,000 funding to explore the possibility of sending a flock of miniature floating robots (known as independent micro swimmers) to explore the oceans under the ice shells of our solar system’s numerous “ocean worlds”.

But don’t imagine metallic humanoids swimming underwater like frogs. It will probably be simple triangular wedges.

Pluto is one example of a possible oceanic world. But the worlds with the oceans closest to the surface, making them the most accessible, are Europa, the moon of Jupiter, and Enceladus, the moon of Saturn.

These oceans are of interest to scientists, not only because they contain a lot of liquid water (the ocean of Europa probably has twice as much water as the entire ocean of the Earth), but also because the chemical interaction between rocks and ocean water can support life.

In fact, the environment in these oceans may be very similar to what was on Earth at the time of the origin of life.

On most of the oceanic worlds in our solar system, the energy that heats their rocky expanses and keeps the oceans from freezing to their very foundations comes primarily from the tides.

This contrasts with the predominantly radioactive heating of the earth’s interior. But the chemistry of interaction between water and rock is similar.

Samples of Enceladus’ ocean have already been taken by the Cassini spacecraft, which has flown through plumes of ice crystals erupting through cracks in the ice.

There is also hope that NASA’s Europa Clipper mission will be able to find similar plumes for sampling when it begins a series of close flybys over Europe in 2030.

However, entering the ocean for research can be much more informative than simply examining a dried sample.

This is where the concept of sensing with independent micro-swimmers (Swim) comes in. The idea is to land on Europa or Enceladus (which will not be cheap or easy) in a place where the ice is relatively thin (not yet established) and use a radioactively heated probe to melt a 25 cm wide hole in the ocean located hundreds of or thousands of meters below.

Once there, it will release up to four dozen wedge-shaped micro-swimmers 12 cm long, which will go in search.

Their endurance will be much less than that of the 3.6 m long autonomous submersible known as the Boaty McBoatface, with a range of 2,000 km, which has already cruised over 100 km under the Antarctic ice.

The micro-swimmers will communicate with the probe acoustically (via sound waves) and the probe will transmit its data via cable to a landing platform on the surface. During the study, prototypes will be studied in a test tank with all subsystems integrated.

Limiting the power of microfloaters may mean that none of them can carry cameras (they need their own light source) or sensors that could specifically sniff out organic molecules. But at this stage, nothing is out of the question.

However, finding signs of hydrothermal vents is unlikely. Eventually, the ocean floor will be many kilometers below the point where the micro-fluctuations are released.

But in Swim’s sentence, there is no clear indication of source discovery. To find and explore the vents themselves, you’ll probably need a Boaty McBoatface in space. However, Swim would be a good start.


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