How does one monitor the weather patterns of a planet that’s hundreds of millions of miles away? NASA postulates that the answer is ‘windbots’.
The idea is based on using Jupiter’s stormy atmosphere to our advantage by using its incredible winds to actually power the space probes indefinitely. That is to say, for at least a very long time.
“One could imagine a network of windbots existing for quite some time on Jupiter or Saturn, sending information about ever-changing weather patterns,” said Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineer Adrian Stoica.
The JPL team has recently been awarded $100,000 to help fund the research on how to get a project like this up in the air. The thought is that sending these probes out will help astronomers not only get a closer look at the atmosphere of these gas giants, but to also gain a deeper understand of our own planet’s weather.
How do we get the ball rolling?
Just like any other space probe, NASA needs to figure out a way for the windbot to be entirely self-reliant. This continuously proves to be a difficult task since each planet’s atmosphere and environment typically differ from each other in a radical fashion. The JPL research team will be figuring out how to harness Jupiter’s wind, temperature changes, and magnetic field to help accomplish this goal.
NASA’s last attempt at gathering meaningful data from the gas giant was with the Galileo probe. Unfortunately, the probe was only able to send a few hours of data back to NASA before it was lost in Jupiter’s violent atmosphere. This new probe would need to be able to maintain a safe height by bobbing similar to a fishing float or bobber, though JPL references dandelion seeds as a more proper example.
“[Dandelion seeds] rotate as [they] fall, creating lift, which allows [them] to stay afloat for a long time, carried by the wind,” said Stoica.
What is NASA hoping to accomplish?
Once the new windbots are all set to to fly, their mission will be simple in theory: explore Jupiter’s atmosphere. Using the sensors attached to the body of the probe, it will send information about turbulent weather, which NASA hopes will help scientists better understand extreme weather patterns back on Earth, such as hurricanes.
As of right now research is just getting underway, and NASA currently has no scheduled missions that would utilize windbots, but there is a time and place for everything.
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