Thursday, May 17, 2007

NASA To Send Robot To Explore Mysterious, Deadly 'Bottomless Pit'

It's the deepest known land pit in the world, and it's already claimed the life of one explorer who dived in to try and discover the secrets that lie at its bottom.

At 925 feet deep, the El Zacaton sinkhole in Mexico remains one of the mysteries of the world. Scientists know little about how the geothermal pit is fed by water, or what creatures live in its deepest, darkest depths.

They hope they can find out by sending a NASA robot where no man has gone before, or at least lived to tell the tale of what he found down there :
NASA, which funded the robotic explorer, views the mission as a test-run for a potential journey to Europa, a moon of Jupiter thought to contain liquid water beneath miles of ice — and possibly complex forms of life. New technologies that could help explore its ocean will be put to the test during the robot's descent.

Software written by Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute will allow the untethered sub to navigate in the sometimes closely confined underwater spaces and probe the pitch-black sinkhole with 56 sonar sensors for mapping.

You can follow the progress of the robot's exploration of the sinkhole via this website.

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