Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Prototype Space Probe Prepares To Explore Earth’s Deepest Sinkhole

12.03.2007
Scientists return this week to the world’s deepest known sinkhole, Cenote Zacatón in Mexico, to resume tests of a NASA-funded robot called DEPTHX, designed to survey and explore for life in one of Earth’s most extreme regions and potentially in outer space.

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 jbird@jsg.utexas.edu, 512-232-9623.

J.B. Bird | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.jsg.utexas.edu/news/rels/030807.html

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht How much biomass grows in the savannah?
16.02.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

nachricht Canadian glaciers now major contributor to sea level change, UCI study shows
15.02.2017 | University of California - Irvine

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Switched-on DNA

20.02.2017 | Materials Sciences

Second cause of hidden hearing loss identified

20.02.2017 | Health and Medicine

Prospect for more effective treatment of nerve pain

20.02.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>