A diver from National Geographic took a swim Tuesday in the frigid waters of Lake Mendota as his crew documented an underwater robot being field tested in the lake.
Researchers from NASA and the University of Illinois at Chicago are heading up the week-long test in which a submersible will dive underneath the ice to map the environment and sample microbial life.
The researchers intend for the submersible to be used to explore the frozen oceans on Jupiter's moon, Europa.
A 120-foot crane lowered the sphere-like underwater instrument into the icy waters of the lake off the University of Wisconsin-Madison Limnology Lab Tuesday afternoon, successfully starting the first phase of field tests to see if the photography and other scientific instruments on board can withstand the arctic conditions.
Various engineers and scientists watched the robot's sensors and processors churn out a stream of data Tuesday, and they monitored computers to make sure cold temperatures didn't take a toll on the submersible.
"Today our aim is to monitor the processes and see if they will stand the low temperature (and if) all the hardware would stand the low temperatures," said Shilpa Gulati, a graduate student from Texas working on the project.
Further tests in Antarctica are planned later this year, where the submersible would study the landscape and chemical composition of Lake Bonney.
If all goes well, scientists say, it's possible such robotic technology could be use to launch a probe to Europa and search its icy layer for water and even signs of life.
The UW-Madison's Center for Limnology is providing logistical support for the $2.3 million effort.
The robot is called Endurance, which stands for Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-Ice Robotic Antarctic Explorer.
UW-Madison said all went well Tuesday. Later this week, researchers said the robot will actually go out and map part of Lake Mendota before returning to its hole in the ice.
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