NASA sunk three spacecraft into gas giants. Two of them, Galileo and Cassini, were at the end of their missions when they encountered doom in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, respectively. But the Galileo spacecraft arrived with a passenger – a probe designed to land in a giant gaseous atmosphere.
NASA lost contact with the Galileo probe about an hour later, when it reached 93 miles (150 kilometers) into Jupiter’s atmosphere. Scientists are not sure how deep the probe reached before it was destroyed by Jupiter’s high pressures and temperatures. But could we one day send a spacecraft deeper into a gas giant like Jupiter or Saturn? Given that these massive planets may not have a solid surface on which to crash, could a spacecraft fly past a gas giant?
According to Lee Fletcher, associate professor of planetary sciences at the University of Leicester in the UK, the short answer is “no”. No spacecraft can survive a trip through a gas giant.
The problem with trying to fly through a gas giant is that “density, pressure, and temperature It all rises to such massive levels when you penetrate the interior downward,” Fletcher told Live Science. Near the center of Jupiter, the natural gas hydrogen Become liquid metalWhich makes this region “as strange as the surface of the Sun,” he continued.
To give a sense of pressure near the center of Jupiter, consider Mariana Trench employment Earth, the deepest place in our oceans. Depth of pressure is approximately 7 miles (11 km), to just over 1,000 bar (100,000 kPa), which is about eight tons of pressure per square inch (703 kg per square meter). At sea level, you feel a pressure of about 1 bar (100 kPa). The pressures near the center of Jupiter jump to megabars, or one million bars, Fletcher said. On top of these enormous pressures, temperatures also rise to tens of thousands of degrees Kelvin, which equates to tens of thousands of degrees Celsius.
At this point, not only will any spacecraft be crushed or melted – it will completely disintegrate into its component atomsFletcher said.
Here’s what a spacecraft might encounter on its journey to the center of Jupiter.
First, the ideal giant gas probe should be in the shape of a bullet, to improve aerodynamics and allow it to land as low as possible, Fletcher said. As the spacecraft begins to descend, it will encounter weak ammonia clouds and likely pass through the blue sky, due to the same light scattering phenomenon that occurs in Earth’s atmosphere.
After passing through the “deep reddish-brown” clouds of ammonium hydrosulfide, the spacecraft will reach about 50 miles (80 km) deep, “high-rise” area CumulusIt might have been lit up by massive thunderstorms, Fletcher said.
Much deeper, Fletcher said, between 4,350 to 8,700 miles (7,000 to 14,000 km), the spacecraft would encounter an atmosphere so hot that the atmosphere itself would glow. This is where temperatures rise to tens of thousands of degrees Celsius and pressure rises to megabars. And this is where the spacecraft begins to disintegrate.
In this still mysterious region of Jupiter’s interior, hydrogen and helium become liquid. From Juno’s mission It was launched in 2011, scientists discovered that Jupiter does not have a solid core but rather a diffuse core of material including nitrogenAnd carbon even iron. By the time you reach this fuzzy mixed “core,” Fletcher said, “it’s no longer there.”
But Fletcher likes to be poetic about these things. Yes, Galileo, its probe, Cassini and our hypothetical spacecraft in the shape of a bullet all disintegrated into their constituent atoms when they fell into their gas giants, but those atoms “will remain part of those giant planets forever. Nothing you put is ever really Lost by a giant planet.”
Originally published on Live Science.