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This Rover Drives Under Ice And Could Explore Extraterrestrial Oceans

By driving on the underside of ice, this device can explore difficult-to-access waters on Earth, and possibly beyond.

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One of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory newest rovers looks a little bit like an upside-down, aquatic Segway. While we've figured out how to send rovers to explore the land of far-off planets, negotiating the world beneath a thick layer of ice is not so simple. But, as you can see in the video, JPL has created a rover that can drive on the underside of ice.

In a recent test near Barrow, Alaska, the scientists sawed through the ice and put the rover into the water, where it performed well. Their colleagues back at JPL in California were able to control it remotely, the first time anybody has piloted such an untethered, under-ice vehicle via satellite. Made to be buoyant, it floats to the surface, allowing it traction to crawl about the ice. Hence the name: Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration, or BRUIE.

The goal here is to create a rover that could explore oceans outside of our own planet. It is thought that there is a large liquid ocean beneath the frozen surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, which is why it's considered amongst the most likely places in our Solar System that could harbor life. But as JPL astrobiologist Kevin Hand stressed, the rover is but an "early, early, early precursor of something that we may someday fly to Europa."  

Getting beneath the ice on Europa would likely present quite an obstacle. Not that scientists aren't trying. The JPL also has some other ideas about what sort of submersibles we could send off into space to dive into Europa's oceans and tell us what's actually under there.

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