NASA recently announced a U.S. $ 600,000 (£ 495,000) research grant on the possibility of sending swarms of small swimming robots (known as tiny independent swimmers) to explore the oceans under the ice shells of many “Solar Systems” seas. But do not think of metal humanoids swimming like an underwater frog; they will probably be straightforward, triangular wedges.
Pluto is one example of a possible seaside world. But the planets with oceans are much closer together, making it easier to reach Europa, the moon of Jupiter, and Enceladus, the moon of Saturn.
Life within the oceans
These seas are of interest to scientists because they have a lot of liquid water (the European ocean is probably twice as much as the oceans of the EarthEarth), but because the chemical interaction between rock and sea water can support life. The surrounding area may be similar to Earth’sEarth’s at the beginning of life.
These are areas where water seeped into the ocean floor and was heated and enriched with chemicals — the water was then returned to the sea. Bacteria can eat this chemical, and large animals can eat them. No sunlight or space is needed. Many warm, rocky structures of this type, known as “hydrothermal vents,” have been recorded on the ocean floor since their discovery in 1977. In these areas, chemosynthesis (chemical energy) supports the local food web, and there is photosynthesis (energy from the sun).
In many oceans of our Solar System, the energy that heats the rocky interior and prevents the sea from freezing to the ground comes mainly from waves. This contrasts with the radiation heat in the center of the earth. But the chemistry of water-rock interactions is the same.
The Enceladus Sea has already been sampled by flying the Cassini spacecraft with ice crystals exploding in the cracks in the ice. And there are hopes that NASA’s Europa Clipper campaign can collect the same plums you can sample when it launches a series of nearby Europa flybys in 2030. However, diving into the ocean for exploration may be more rewarding than simply sniffing the frozen ground. Sample.
This is where the sensible sensor of the tiny independent swimmers (Swim) comes into play. The idea is to stay in Europa or Enceladus (which is not cheap or easy) in an area where the ice is small (not yet available) and use heat radiation to melt a hole 25cm wide into the sea — located hundreds or thousands of meters below.
When it arrives, it will release tiny wedge-shaped swimmers up to 12cm to explore. Their endurance will be much less than the 3.6m long submarine-powered Boaty McBoatface, which has already covered more than 100km under Antarctic ice.
At this stage, Swimming is just one of five “phase 2” lessons in a series of “advanced concepts” funded in the 2022 cycle of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. So there are still long-standing challenges to Swimming, and no overall goal has been set or funded.
Younger swimmers will connect the probe loudly (via sound waves), and the search will send its data via cable to the person sitting on top. The study will test prototypes in a test tank with integrated sub-systems.
Each tiny swimmer could test at least ten meters from the study area, limited by its battery capacity and acoustic data link width. Still, by acting as a herd, he could map out changes (in time or location) in temperature and salt. . They may even be able to measure changes in water flow, which may indicate the direction in the vicinity of the hydrothermal vent.