Hunt for Life Beyond Earth

An electronic signal travels from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, to a robotic rover clinging to the underside of foot-thick ice on an Alaskan lake.   Image © Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

The rover’s spotlight begins to glow. “It worked!” exclaims John Leichty, a young JPL engineer huddled in a tent on the lake ice nearby. It may not sound like a technological tour de force, but this could be the first small step toward the exploration of a distant moon.

Above image: Astrobiologist Kevin Hand prepares to deploy a rover (shown below) beneath the ice of Alaska’s Sukok Lake. When a probe finally reaches Europa, its search for life may be modeled on trial runs like this. And with the powerful SLS rocket NASA is designing, he says, “we could potentially get to Jupiter and Europa very quickly.”

Moon Europa

Europa’s frozen, fissured surface, seen here in a colorized mosiac image from the Galileo spacecraft, hides a liquid ocean that may hold all the ingredients needed for life. Credit: Galileo Project/NASA/JPL, Reprocessed by Ted Stryk

Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration

BRUIE (Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration) crawls along the underside of the surface ice in a test in Sukok Lake. Bubbles of methane and other compounds signal the presence of life below. Image © Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

Astrobiology Nat Geo

The images are from the July issue of National Geographic magazine. Image credit National Geographic

source National Geographic