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Dartmouth Scientists Get $1.25 Million In Grants To Study Icy Worlds

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NASA/JPL-Caltech
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Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, has an icy surface that scientists want to know more about.

A Dartmouth engineering lab received $1.25 million in grants from NASA to study our solar system’s icy worlds.

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Icy worlds, like some moons of Saturn and Jupiter, are a top priority in the planetary science community. These environments are key to exploring the possibilities of extraterrestrial life and the habitability of other planets, according to lead researcher Jacob Buffo.

“A lot of these worlds have tens of kilometers of ice overlaying these oceans that we really want to know about. And so this is kind of our window that we have to look through,” Buffo said.

The Dartmouth team will investigate environments on planet Earth that are analogous to the places they hope to learn about, using a variety of lakes in the Cariboo Plateau region of British Columbia to learn about ice on other worlds.

One of the grants will support research into the biogeochemistry of planetary ice and complex mixtures of ice, brine, and sediment. Scientists will look at the way that ice might interact with spacecraft on future NASA missions.

The other grant will help the Dartmouth team investigate ice that might be found in the oceans of these worlds and simulate how they might evolve.

The lab’s research won’t only be used for studying space. Buffo says his team’s work could also help predict how climate change will affect Earth. Buffo says he hopes his team’s research might help scientists predict conditions for permafrost or sea ice, among other environments, as climate change continues to take effect.

The NASA grants will fund the two projects for three years. Dartmouth researchers are hoping that these grants will lay the groundwork for more planetary research in the state of New Hampshire.