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NASA Developing AI To Explore Extraterrestrial Water Worlds

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NASA is reportedly working on artificial intelligence-embedded drones that will navigate and search for life in alien waters.

With the help of this new technology, the submarine-like unmanned machines will be able to navigate on their own and make decisions while exploring the alien oceans in Jupiter's moon Europa or Saturn's Dione and Ganymede.

Presence Of Water In Other Celestial Bodies

The astronomical observations and space exploration in the last few years have revealed that the solar system has plentiful water and may possibly be hosting many "subsurface liquid oceans."

Researchers tied to space observation and exploration believe that water lies beneath Europa's crust. The presence of water has been discovered on the ice-covered moons of Saturn, like Dione and Ganymede. Scientists have ample proof regarding the presence of concealed oceans on the dwarf planets like Ceres and Pluto.

In September 2016, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was the first to spot giant plumes of water about 125 miles high erupting from below the surface of Europa. After this discovery, researchers started to work on a mission that would allow them to explore Europa's ocean without drilling through miles of ice.

JPL Team Starts Developing AI Drones

The AI would allow unmanned submarine-like drones to plan their own course on the basis of detection they are making in the alien waters they are exploring.

A team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is currently working on the AI for underwater drones. In a test conducted from Aug. 26 to Sept. 4, 2016, the JPL team tested some of the coordinated drones in Monterey Bay, California.

During the test, information pertaining to the features of the ocean was supplied to the drones from shore to help them decide their routes. The drones also sensed how the ocean actively changed around them.

Steve Chien, head of the Artificial Intelligence Group at JPL, notes that the drones should also look for fissures on the surface of a planet, referred to as hydrothermal vents. These vents are generally found in an ocean basin supporting life-sustaining habitats. Identifying the vents will probably be the best chance to recognize a moon or planet that is capable of sustaining life.

"Depending on the exact mission concept under consideration, autonomous underwater vehicles exploring ocean worlds will need to operate autonomously for days to months. Within this time frame they must manage their own resources, explore a largely unknown environment, including navigating to and from a single point of insertion which also serves as a communications link to the outside world," says Chien.

Chien's team is planning to conduct its next test in spring 2017.

Photo: Hubble ESA | Flickr  

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