If aliens find a strange, long, squiggly creature swimming in one of Europa’s lakes, will they call it the Loch NASA monster? That could happen if a) there are aliens on one of Jupiter’s moons and b) if NASA sends an amphibious robot shaped like a giant eel that’s currently under development. And what exciting discoveries might this robotic sea serpent be seeking on its swim? Would you believe sea salt?
A Cornell University engineering team, led by Mason Peck and Rob Shepherd of the school’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department, is using a $100,000 starter grant from NASA to design a soft robot shaped like a lamprey (those eels with the scary-looking toothy sucking mouths) that will generate its own power by first using its tentacles to harvest electricity from magnetic fields. This would power an electrolysis pack that would separate water into oxygen and hydrogen that can be used for fuel, says Peck.
Igniting this gas expands these internal chambers, causing shape change to propel the rover through fluid or perhaps along the surface of a planetary body.
The robotic eel would also have electroluminescent skin to provide lighting for underwater photography.
If this Loch NASA monster encounters the mysterious dark matter puzzled astronomers see erupting from the surface of Europa, what will it find? A research team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab created a device called “Europa in a can” that replicates the pressures, temperatures and radiation levels there. After a few hours in the Europa can, white table salt (sodium chloride) turned dark and matched the color of the matter seen by the Galileo spacecraft on its mission.
OK, dark sea salt isn’t sexy but it’s definitely an important discovery since it means there could be an ocean under Europa’s ice that may contain life.
Let’s hope that the alien life isn’t terrified by the NASA robotic sea monster and sends its own Europazilla to retaliate.