07/17/2013 08:03 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Space Penetrator VIDEO Shows High-Velocity Planetary Projectile Obiterate Ice Block

Does extraterrestrial life exist below the icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa? Some scientists think it might, and by 2022 they hope to send an unmanned spacecraft to find out. With that goal in mind, engineers have developed a so-called "space penetrator" intended to blast through the ice like a big interplanetary bullet.

In the dramatic video above, British engineers test the ground-breaking technology and -- kaboom. The 44-pound (20 kilogram) device crashes into the ice at close to 761 mph (340 meters per second), just under the speed of sound, the BBC reported. That's enough to turn the ice into powder -- and yet the penetrator emerges relatively unscathed.

"It was really successful because the entry velocity was higher than expected and all the systems we've looked at so far have survived," Marie-Claire Perkinson, one of the scientists behind the research, told the BBC.

europa life
These global views of Jupiter's icy moon Europa were captured by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in June 1997.

Why send a projectile like this to Europa? Observations suggest that beneath its surface, the Jovian moon contains liquid water and elements essential for sustaining life.

Scientists think the space penetrator could make its way as far as 10 feet (3 meters) into the moon's surface and stay functional in extremely low temperatures. Electronics inside the penetrator would collect samples, analyze them, and radio the results back to Earth.

The team says they're about three years away from testing a full working model.



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