NASA has released a video test of its laser-powered drill that is expected to be used by a robot during future voyages on ice-covered Jupiter moon Europa.
Testing took place at Matanuska Glacier, Alaska. New Scientist described what is spurring the mission, and gave a first-hand account of the VALKYRIE robot which could be searching for signs of life as early as 2022:
While Mars has long been the darling of NASA’s robotic exploration efforts, in December astronomers revealed the first evidence that Europa is venting plumes of vapour into space – probably fed by the seemingly life-friendly ocean we think is present under the ice.
“The plumes were a shocker from a number of perspectives,” says Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division. “That tells us Europa is an active world. Active worlds may have life on them. And it tells us the ocean may be very close to the surface.” …
Further hints that Europa has liquid water – and possibly life – come from Jupiter’s intense gravity. This constantly kneads the moon as it orbits, infusing it with warmth that may have kept a sub-surface ocean liquid over the age of the solar system. And other data suggest that this ocean sits on a rocky mantle that could be dotted with hydrothermal vents – potential hotspots for life.