|Title||Melting probes revisited – Ice penetration experiments under Mars surface pressure conditions|
|Author(s)||Norbert Kömle , Patrick Tiefenbacher, Peter Weiss, Anastasiia Bendiukova|
Melting probes as vehicles to explore terrestrial ice sheets have been designed and applied successfully since the early 1960’s. Later on, in the 1990’s, various proposals were made to apply such probes also as a means to explore ice sheets on other bodies of the solar system, e.g. Jupiter’s icy satellite Europa or the ice caps of Mars. For this type of subsurface probes the name cryobot has become common. We review both early developments and more recent efforts to develop probes for application in planetary environments, i.e. under low pressures and low temperatures. The current state of art as well as the pros and cons of the different concepts hitherto considered are described. While many tests with various probes have been done in terrestrial environments, experiments under low surface pressure conditions are rare. Therefore, we report here on lab tests with a simple melting probe under the range of pressure and temperature conditions that would be encountered on the surface of Mars and compare them with corresponding tests under a much lower gas pressure, possibly representative for icy satellites. The contribution of evaporation during the melting and its variation with surface pressure is also considered.
All surface pressure measurements that have been performed on Mars up to now indicate a surface pressure above the water triple point pressure (612 Pa). This means that water ice always transforms into the liquid phase when warmed up to 0°C, before it evaporates into the ambient atmosphere. The temporary existence of the liquid phase around the heated tip of the cryobot allows good thermal conductance between probe and surrounding ice, which is an important pre-requisite for efficient melt penetration. Our experiments indicate that under all possible Mars surface pressures the liquid phase is present when the probe is heated up. This finding confirms experimentally that a probe as it was proposed by Paige (1992) for in situ exploration of the Mars north polar layers would work in the expected way, although the penetration velocity must be expected be lower than under Earth pressure conditions. A test with the same probe, but under an almost two orders of magnitude lower gas pressure than on Mars, still indicates the temporary existence of the liquid phase in the contact region between the probe and the surrounding ice.
|Categories||Hot-Point Drills, Thermal Drilling|
|Citation||Norbert Kömle , Patrick Tiefenbacher, Peter Weiss, Anastasiia Bendiukova ( 2018 ) Melting probes revisited – Ice penetration experiments under Mars surface pressure conditions. Icarus , 308 , 117-127 . doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2017.08.006|