Scientists hope to bring back the world’s first fresh samples of Earth’s mantle, in a $1 billion mission dubbed “the most challenging endeavor in the history of Earth science.”
They’ll do so by venturing out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where comparatively thin mid-ocean ridges exist. These should, in theory, allow geologists to reach the mantle within a relatively short 6 km of drilling, much less than the average ~30-40 km required on continental land.
The area they plan to drill, however, will be only 30 cm wide.
The Japanese deep-sea drilling ship Chikyu, which I mentioned in A Look Into The Inner Earth, will provide passage on the journey, and its unique drilling capabilities (Chikyu has already broken records by drilling more than 2,111 m) will make the feat possible.
It’s a complicated project, but it’s important — we’ve sent robots to Mars, but we’ve yet to truly explore the depths of our own planet. We may have an idea of what goes on down there, but we’ve never physically observed it.
If this mission pans out, scientists hope to reach the Earth’s mantle sometime in the 2020s.
Be sure to check out the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program for more information on exploring the Earth beneath the sea.