Moving forward in the unending quest for life beyond Earth, scientists are now hoping to explore the depths of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
Like Europa, the surface of Enceladus is composed of ice. But, also like Europa, beneath that layer of ice is a liquid ocean where organic life may flourish.
If all goes to plan, scientists will drill into one of the moon’s many cryovolcanoes, volcanoes that erupt water instead of molten rock.
Of course, actually landing on a cryovolcano would be far too risky, and would potentially contaminate or destroy organisms beneath the surface. But even though we can’t land there, we still might be able to investigate what lies within.
“The concept is to establish a base station that is a safe distance from a cryovolcano on the surface of Enceladus. This base station would power a probe dubbed IceMole, which is designed to melt and drill its way down to a depth of 330 to 660 feet at speeds of about 3 feet per hour.”
An interesting fact about Enceladus: It’s one of only three “outer Solar System bodies” that are geologically active. The prospect of exploring this alien world is fascinating.
Headed by the German Aerospace Center, the project is officially called The Enceladus Explorer, and began on February 22, 2012. It’ll be several years before the “space drill” is put to use, but for now researchers are exploring the possibilities, and testing out their designs on glaciers right here on Earth.
I wonder if we’ll ever do something similar on Jupiter’s moon Europa.
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