The most promising places to look for life in the Solar System are in the ocean moons Europa and Enceladus. But all that warm, salty, potentially life-supporting water is under thick sheets of ice: up to 30 km thick on Europa and up to 40 km thick for Enceladus.
The main obstacles to exploring all that water are the thick ice barriers. Assuming a spacecraft can be designed and built to melt its way through all that ice, what then?
Submarines can do the actual exploring, and they needn’t be large.
The IceCube Neutrino Detector is an observatory unlike any other. Using sensors embedded inside a square kilometer chuck of Antarctic ice, it detects tiny particles called neutrinos, which rarely interact with ordinary matter and are incredibly hard to capture. IceCube has had several major successes in the last few years, including this summer’s announcement of a neutrino map of the Milky Way galaxy. But scientists are pushing up against the limits of IceCube’s capabilities, and plans are in the works for IceCube-Gen2: a detector 5 times as sensitive and 8 times as large, with a radio antenna array across four hundred square kilometers. IceCube Gen2 will increase the number of neutrino detections by an order of magnitude, and will be able to better pinpoint the sources from which the neutrinos are emitted.
SpaceX’s Starlink service is now available in Antarctica, according to a tweet from the National Science Foundation on the morning of September 14, stating, “NSF-supported USAP scientists in #Antarctica are over the moon! Starlink is testing polar service with a newly deployed user terminal at McMurdo Station. Increasing bandwidth and connectivity for service support.” SpaceX replied with a quote tweet saying, “Starlink is now available on all seven continents! In such a remote location like Antarctica, this capability is enabled by Starlink’s space laser network.”
For decades, evidence has been mounting that beneath the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa, a vast ocean exists that could possibly host microbial life. As scientists prepare to send the Europa Clipper mission to orbit the Jupiter system, they are trying to learn more about the subsurface ocean and the ice that encompasses the moon.
One way to study Europa is to look at similar environments here on Earth. Scientists say that conditions found under Earth’s Antarctic ice shelf provides an analog to Europa’s subsurface ocean and can help them determine how the moon’s ice shell accretes and grows.
A new study published in the journal Astrobiology looked at a unique phenomenon in the Antarctic ocean called underwater snow. This is where ice floats upwards onto the bottom of the ice shelf and attaches in fluffy-looking mounds. This helps to replenish the ice shelf. The study infers that the same phenomenon is likely true for Jupiter’s moon, and may play a role in building and replenishing its exterior ice shell.
Collapsing ice shelves on the eastern coast of Antarctica has revealed something never seen before: a landform that might be an island. But this is not the first newly revealed island off the Antarctic coast. A series of islands have appeared as the ice shelves along the continent’s coastline has disintegrated over the past few years.
Although meteorites are known to fall all over the world, the environment and unique processes in Antarctica make them somewhat easier to find on the pristine, snowy landscape. Still, collecting meteorites in Antarctica is physically grueling and hazardous work.
But what if there was a “treasure map” which showed the most probable places to find meteorites in Antarctica, directing researchers where to look?
The effects of ancient asteroid impacts on Earth are still evident from the variety of impact craters across our planet. And from the Chelyabinsk event back in 2013, where an asteroid exploded in the air above a Russian town, we know how devastating an “airburst” event can be.
Now, researchers in Antarctica have discovered evidence of a strange intermediate-type event – a combination of an impact and an airburst. The event was so devastating, its effects are still apparent even though it took place 430,000 years ago.
Glaciologists have been closely monitoring ice shelves in Antarctica for signs of cracks and chasms that indicate breakups. The loss of ice around the Earth’s polar regions is one of many consequences of climate change, which is leading to rising ocean levels and various feedback mechanisms. Recently, the ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite witnessed a giant iceberg breaking off from Antarctica’s Brunt Ice Shelf on February 26th.
The Copernicus Sentinel mission consists of two polar-orbiting satellites that rely on C-band synthetic aperture radar imaging to conduct Earth observations in all weather conditions. In recent years, it has been monitoring the Brunt Ice Shelf for signs of cracks and chasms. According to the images it recently captured, an iceberg larger than New York City broke free and began floating out to sea.
Iceberg A-68A, the massive frigid behemoth posing a threat to South Georgia Island, might be breaking into pieces. Satellite images from the European Space Agency showed large cracks forming in the iceberg.
A massive iceberg named A-68A is on a long journey through the seas near Antarctica. Though largely empty, those waters do host some islands, most notably South Georgia Island. In recent weeks satellite images showed the iceberg heading right for South Georgia.
That upcoming collision could have devastating consequences for wildlife that congregates on the island. But now, it looks like the collision might not happen.