What's the Latest Development?
Last week British engineers conducted an experiment designed to show one way of exploring Jupiter's moon Europa: They fired a 20-kilogram high-velocity penetrator, at 340 meters per second, into a 10-ton block of ice. While the block was reduced to a pile of snow, the penetrator and the instruments inside it stayed intact. The concept has been in development for almost a decade, and was originally intended for a lunar mission that was eventually shelved, but the European Space Agency (ESA) has now decided to follow through with the technology.
What's the Big Idea?
Scientists are increasingly looking to Europa as a likely candidate for harboring life. Unlike so-called "soft landers," a probe using penetration technology could land on the icy surface with enough impact to reduce the number of meters needed for a drill to reach the water ocean underneath. Also, says ESA project manager Sanjay Vijendran, their relatively light weight "means you can deploy a few at once from a single spacecraft orbiter." There's still a great deal of work ahead before such a mission can take place; for example, instruments and power supplies must be designed to withstand the cold long enough to take samples and send data back.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com