Getting to the core of what’s down below is a unique subterranean travel
experience that requires superb technology and a team of expert scientists above ground to lead the
exploration beneath. According to Wikipedia’s entry on
scientific drilling, humans have descended as deep
as 2,080 meters in Krubera, the world’s deepest known cave, in the Caucasus mountains of Georgia. And gold miners
in South Africa regularly go deeper than 3,400 meters. However, no human has ever descended further than this
below the Earth’s solid surface.
Advances in ocean drilling technology may now provide the opportunity for equipment to go even deeper. The Chikyu
(which means “earth”) is a $582 million Japanese vessel that plans to cut deeper into the earth’s surface
than ever before. Operated by Japan’s Center for Deep Earth Exploration (CDEX), the ship is capable of drilling
4,000 meters underwater and an additional 7,000 meters from the ocean bed to the mantle—a depth that has not yet
been reached. This Newsweek
article from the Sept 12 issue explains that full-scale drilling on the Chikyu won’t actually begin for
another two years, but the ship has left shore for several test runs, including one this past August.
This CDEX website has more information about
the ship, as well as photos and specifications. Illustrations of the drilling process can be viewed
here. Very little is known about the
inner core of the earth. Scientists hope to study sediment and rock to learn more about the earth’s evolution, and plan
to add monitoring devices to tectonic plates to ease the study of earthquakes. It will be
interesting to follow the efforts of this exploration to see what is discovered about the core
of our planet.