Three spacecraft have been sucked into the gas giants by NASA. Galileo, Cassini and Cassini were both at the end of their missions when their fates were sealed in the atmospheres Saturn and Jupiter. The Galileo spacecraft was carrying a passenger, a probe that was designed to be dropped into a giant gas atmosphere.
NASA lost contact after the Galileo probe reached Jupiter's atmosphere at 93 miles (150 km) in about an hour. Scientists don't know how far the probe traveled before being destroyed by Jupiter's extreme pressures and temperatures. Could we ever send a spacecraft further into a gas giant like Saturn or Jupiter? These huge planets don't have solid surfaces to crash on, so could a spacecraft pass through one of these gas giants?
Leigh Fletcher is an associate professor of planet science at the University of Leicester, UK. The short answer to this question is "no". A trip through a giant gas can't be made by a spacecraft.
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Fletcher explained that the problem when trying to fly through a giant gas is that the density, pressure, and temperature all rise to such huge levels as you get deeper into the interior. The normally gaseous hydrogen is transformed into a liquid metal near Jupiter's center, Fletcher explained. This makes this area "as exotic and as rare as the surface of our sun."
The Mariana Trench in Earth, which is the deepest part of our oceans, can give you an idea of Jupiter's pressure. Nearly 7 miles (7 km) deep, pressures reach 1,000 bars (100,000. kilopascals), or eight tons per square inch (803 kilograms per square meters). You can feel about one bar of pressure at sea level (100 kilopascals). Fletcher stated that pressures can reach megabars (or one million bars) near the center of Jupiter. Temperatures can also reach the tens to thousands of Kelvins. This is equivalent to tens and thousands of degrees Celsius.
Fletcher stated that any spacecraft would then not be melted or squished, but would disintegrate into its constituent parts.
Here are some of the things a spacecraft may encounter while traveling to Jupiter's center.
Fletcher stated that the ideal gas giant probe should be shaped like an actual bullet to improve aerodynamics. This will allow it to plummet to as low as possible. The same light scattering phenomenon that occurs in Earth's atmosphere would see the spacecraft encounter wispy ammonia clouds as it descends.
Fletcher stated that the spacecraft would pass through ammonium hydrosulfide clouds "gunky and reddy brown", which are about 50 miles (80 km) deep. This area is made up of cumulonimbus clouds, possibly lit by large lightning storms.
Fletcher stated that spacecrafts would travel much deeper, approximately 4,350 to 8,700 miles (7,000- 14,000 km). There, the spacecraft will encounter an atmosphere so hot that it would glow. Here temperatures can reach tens or thousands of degrees Celsius, and pressures can rise to megabars. This is when the spacecraft begins to fall apart.
This mysterious region of Jupiter's innermost interior is where hydrogen and helium are fluid. Scientists discovered that Jupiter does not have a solid core, but rather a diffuse core made up of various materials, including iron, carbon, and nitrogen. This was revealed by Juno, which was launched in 2011. Fletcher stated that "you're no longer" once you reach this "fuzzy and mixed" core.
Fletcher enjoys being poetic about these things. Yes, Galileo and its probe, Cassini, and our hypothetical bullet-shaped spacecraft did all disintegrate as they fell into their respective gas giants. But those atoms will "always be a part" of the giant planets. You never lose anything you have put into a giant planet.
Original publication on Live Science