Saturday, June 15, 2024

NASA develops breakthrough technology to hunt for habitable ‘water worlds’

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A cutting-edge quantum technology tool has been created by NASA scientists to hunt for “water worlds” which are likely hiding in our solar system.

The presence of water in different forms in our cosmic neighbourhood is one of the most intriguing aspects of space.

However, scientists are not just fascinated with the existence of water but also the liquid water’s potential to harbour life beyond Earth. 

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher Dr Hannes Kraus said, “Novel quantum sensors not only enable new science, but also offer the chance to downscale former flagship-class instrumentation to a size and cost allowing flagship-class science on CubeSat-class platforms.”

Hunt for life in liquid water

The key to the chances of existence of extraterrestrial life is hidden in the liquid water in space.

The mantra “Follow the Water” has been followed for a long time by astrobiologists in their search for life beyond Earth. 

In the quest for water, scientists have focused on the icy moons of gas and ice giants in our solar system, like Saturn’s Enceladus and Jupiter’s Europa. 

It is believed that these moons harbour vast subsurface oceans which is beneath their thick ice crusts. This existence of subsurface oceans has made them compelling targets for future missions.

However, it is a tough challenge for scientists to penetrate these icy shells using conventional remote-sensing instruments like cameras and radar. 

The scientists need to depend on other techniques till they start sending landers or rovers which can either melt or drill through the ice for detecting the hidden water bodies.

What is magnetometry? 

Magnetometry has emerged as a promising method to detect subsurface oceans. The magnetic fields can penetrate any solid material and give valuable insights regarding the interior of planet-sized bodies.

Solid-state quantum magnetometers have shown the groundbreaking advancement achieved in the field of magnetometry.

Watch: Strongest sign of alien found: The search for life beyond earth

The instruments can provide competitive sensitivities while at the same time boasting reduced power requirements, smaller size and lower weight, in comparison to traditional magnetometers.

The solid-state quantum magnetometers also have unique quantum advantages, such as self-calibration through spin-nuclear quantum interaction. This helps them compensate for drifts over time.

(With inputs from agencies) 

Prisha

Prisha is a digital journalist at WION and she majorly covers international politics. She loves to dive into features and explore different cultures and histories

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