NASA testing an underwater alien-hunting robot

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are testing an early version of an underwater rover that could one day be used in the search for extraterrestrial life by exploring subsurface oceans on alien worlds.


NASA’s BRUIE prototype. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Time magazine explains that this prototype, called the Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration (BRUIE), “is operated through satellite link and designed to cling onto the underside of ice with metal tires, transmitting measurements back to scientists and assessing whether the waters host other life-forms.” NASA astrobiologist Kevin Hand told National Geographic, “It’s the first time ever that an underwater, under-ice, untethered vehicle has been operated through satellite link.” A team of scientists recently tested BRUIE in frozen Alaska lakes. But, ultimately, scientists want to send the rover to an icy world like Jupiter’s moon Europa.

Europa ocean

Artist’s depiction of Europa’s subsurface ocean. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The rover reached the Alaskan water relatively easily by drilling through a single foot of ice. Reaching the subsurface ocean of Europa will prove much more difficult, being that experts estimate the layer of ice on that world to be twenty-four miles thick.

Experts believe Europa has two-to-three times the volume of all the liquid water on Earth. Because of its extensive water, Hand and other astrobiologists believe that Europa “provides an incredibly compelling place to go to search for a second, independent origin of life and it’s a place where we might find lifeforms that are alive now, today.”


The BRUIE prototype. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Although this alien-hunting technology is currently being tested to explore subsurface oceans on other worlds, the launching of any such technology to a moon like Europa is still decades away.

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