Robotic submarine on Antarctic test before icy Jupiter ocean probe

December 15th, 2007 - 5:37 pm ICT by admin  

London, December 15 (ANI): Scientists are developing a robotic submarine to explore the oceans thought to lie beneath the icy crust on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The submarine, named Endurance, will be tested for its efficacy in an Antarctic lake next year. A previous version of the vessel has already mapped the balmier waters of a Mexican sinkhole.

It was revealed during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, California, that the submarine would survey Antarctica’s West Lake Bonney in October 2008 and again in 2009.

Capped by a perennial layer of ice about 4 metres thick, the four-kilometre-wide lake is 40 metres deep. The crust has kept the lake’s waters pristine and virtually unexplored.

In order to facilitate Endurances entry beneath the ice surface, hot water drills will be used to bore a hole.

Once beneath the ice, the vessel would gather information for a three-dimensional map of the lake, and the submerged face of its adjacent glacier. It will also sample the -50 degree Celsius waters for signs of life.

Upon release, Endurance will navigate on its own for up to eight hours at a time. It will be an important test because sending radio commands to the distant, icy moon from Earth will take about half an hour.

“Europa’s far enough away where you’re not going to be able to drive it like a video game. The robot would need a fair amount of its own intelligence to make its own decisions. With Endurance, we’re at that point,” New Scientist quoted lead investigator Peter Doran of the University of Illinois in Chicago, as saying.

He revealed that Endurance would follow a pre-programmed path just beneath the ice.

“This is so we don’t disturb the environment we’re studying with the robot’s propellers,” Doran said.

He said that the vessel would help measure water temperature, salinity, turbidity, dissolved organic carbon, and scan for chlorophyll. Together, such measurements should be enough to detect the presence of life, he added.

However, scientists still have some issues to resolve before Endurance may be exploited to explore otherworldly seas. The vessel is said to be too massive to be sent on interplanetary travel.

Scientists may have to establish a docking station in or around the ice to relay data to Earth because radio waves travel poorly through water, but no one has even begun working on such a transmitter. (ANI)

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