If all goes well with this second round of testing and exploration, the team will return in May for a full-scale exploration of the Zacatón system.
Sinking more than 1,000 feet, Zacatón has only been partially mapped and its true depth remains unknown.
During eight years of research, doctoral student Marcus Gary and hydrogeology professor Jack Sharp from The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences discovered the system’s unusual hydrothermal nature is analogous to liquid oceans under the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Technology developed to explore the sinkholes could be applied to future space probes of Europa, where scientists believe that deep cracks and holes in the ice offer a chance of finding extraterrestrial life.
The technology could also be used to explore Earth’s ice-bound polar lakes, which hold clues to the origins of life on Earth.
Microbes which appear to be new to science have been discovered floating in deep water and lining rocks in Zacatón. Far below sunlight’s ability to penetrate, they may get their energy from nutrients welling up from hot springs. Gary and others speculate that previously undocumented life may await discovery in the murky depths.
Cenote Zacaton, near the northeastern coast of Mexico, is the deepest known water-filled sinkhole in the world.William Stone of Stone Aerospace in Del Valle, Texas, heads the exploration project, named DEPTHX after the robot, a deep phreatic thermal explorer that NASA funded with $5 million. In addition to the geoscientists from The University of Texas at Austin, collaborators include robotics experts, engineers, geobiologists and geochemists from Carnegie Mellon University, Colorado School of Mines and Southwest Research Institute.
The probe is designed to map underwater caves, measure geochemical properties of the water, search for microbes and other life forms, and bring back samples for subsequent analysis.
The team conducted initial tests of the probe’s navigation capabilities in February, successfully mapping La Pilita, the second deepest sinkhole in the Zacatón system. Operations during this first mission showed that DEPTHX could find its way through underwater space, collect samples in unexplored areas and navigate back to the surface.
Unique in the world of robotic explorers, DEPTHX is autonomous. The probe does not rely on instructions from humans to decide where to go or what to do. It creates 3D maps of previously unexplored areas as it swims along and then uses those same maps to navigate back to the surface.
Cenote Zacaton is located in the state of Tamaulipas close to the town of Aldama near the northeastern coast of Mexico.Cenote Zacatón first achieved notoriety when two divers attempted to reach the bottom in 1994. One of them, Sheck Exley, died in the attempt. The other, Jim Bowden, survived, descending to a record depth of 925 feet. The outcome caused scientists to rethink ways that Zacatón could be explored safely.
Gary first began visiting Cenote Zacatón in 1993 as a commercial diving guide. He was inspired by the unique environment to pursue a doctorate in geology. He has continued investigating the system of underwater caves to understand how they formed and evolved over time, working with a network of explorers and scientists to increase awareness of the system’s scientific value.
“We brought this place into international recognition with the cave community and now with the scientific community,” said Gary. “People in cave diving knew it was there because Sheck died there. He was a pioneer in cave diving and legendary for 30 years, holding previous world depth records. That’s all it was known for. Now it has potential for a lot of future research.”
Editors: Print-resolution photos from past and ongoing DEPTHX missions are available at http://www.jsg.utexas.edu/news/rels/030807b.html. Updates will be posted during the March expedition.
For more information about the Jackson School, contact J.B. Bird at email@example.com, 512-232-9623.
J.B. Bird | EurekAlert!
AWI researchers measure a record concentration of microplastic in arctic sea ice
24.04.2018 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
Climate change in a warmer-than-modern world: New findings of Kiel Researchers
24.04.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.
Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...
Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.
Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
25.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
25.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
25.04.2018 | Information Technology