After celebrating their six month anniversary earlier this week, the Curiosity rover has finally consummated its relationship with the planet Mars by drilling its first hole into the rocky surface. Curiosity and Mars have been fooling around for a while now, with the rover analyzing samples and sending photos of the planet's mounds and craters to all its friends, but the two finally went all the way this weekend. Curiosity's next step is to further probe the hole to search for evidence of a once wet environment.
For 15 million years, Lake Vostok remained untouched, buried 3,768 meters beneath Antarctica. Though the 22-year drilling journey finally reached the subglacial lake, scientists still have to wait until 2013-2014 to extract samples of unfrozen lake water, and have to wait until the end of this year to extract frozen samples. The team plans to explore the lake in 2013-2014 using cameras, probes, and water samplers. The researchers will also be looking for life, and could potentially find specially adapted microorganisms living within the subglacial lake. To better understand the great depth the drilling traveled, as well as what layers of ice the drilling passed through, the journey to the unfrozen subglacial waters of Lake Vostok has been tastefully visualized after the break.
A team of researchers has announced that they may be able to drill through the Earth's crust and study the molten mantle region before the end of the decade. Readers may recall from their childhood readings of The Magic Schoolbus Goes Inside The Earth, that the mantle is the region below the crust we live on and the and outside the Earth's outer core. The obvious question is why anyone would want to drill down into a living hell of molten rock, but science can answer for itself. From Cosmos magazine:
By extracting samples of the mantle, which is nearly 3,000 km thick and contains roughly 68% of the planet’s mass, researchers hope to unearth valuable information about its composition that could yield clues about the evolution of the planet. It could also contribute to our understanding of how the ocean crust is formed, the nature of the crust-mantle boundary and the limits of microbial life under the Earth’s surface.While researchers have been able to study material from the mantle forced to the surface, such samples are believed to be inherently different than material in the mantle itself. By tapping into the earth's molten inner-layer, the material can be studied in situ -- a first in human history. While the drilling is technically feasible, it is still fraught with difficulties.