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Scientists To Drill Deeper Than Ever Before, Hope To Sample Mantle

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The photo above depicts a tunneling drill, which is just to dig horizontally, not down into the crust. A drill hoping to reach the mantle would create a much narrower hole. | AP File Photo

They're planning on going where no one has ever gone before.

Scientists say it's now possible to drill through Earth's crust and potentially sample Earth's mantle, according to a commentary in the March 24 issue of Nature. The piece came out on the 50th anniversary of the first attempt to drill into the mantle.

"That has been a long-term ambition of earth scientists," geologist Damon Teagle, one of the commentary's writers, told National Geographic News.

Until now, a lack of technology and knowledge about the inner workings of the planet have made sampling the mantle impossible, according to National Geographic. But now the technology exists, including a Japanese drill ship equipped with the six miles of piping that it would take to drill through the planet's crust.

The paper says if everything goes as planned drilling could begin by 2020, though exploratory missions could begin as soon as next month. According to NatGeo, scientists will "bore further into the oceanic crust than ever before" even during the preliminary phases.

The plan to drill aims to find out more not only about Earth's inner workings, namely insight into seismic activity, but could hold clues to the origins of the planet. To this point, the only way for scientists to learn about the inner workings has been through material that comes to the surface through volcanoes.

The drilling would also give the scientists an opportunity to learn more about the shadowy "Moho" layer, which lies between the crust and the mantle. "We know what ... happens to seismic waves as they cross the Moho, but we don't know what it is," Teagle told National Geographic.

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