Search for life on icy moon be­gins in Mex­ico

Los Angeles Times - - The World -

el za­ca­ton, mex­ico — NASA is test­ing a ro­bot in one of Earth’s deep­est sink­holes in a first step to­ward search­ing for life on Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa.

El Za­ca­ton, near the Gulf Coast of north­east­ern Mex­ico, is about 328 feet wide and 1,000 feet deep. Over the next two weeks, sci­en­tists plan to map and take sam­ples in the dark, wa­ter-filled fis­sure with the 1.5-ton DEPTHX ro­bot. It’s a pre­lude to the pro­posed nav­i­ga­tion of Europa’s ice­capped oceans in about 20 years.

“We’re so sure there’s wa­ter on Europa that the real ques­tion is whether there is also life,” said Christo­pherMcKay of the NASA Ames Re­search Cen­ter.

Low­ered by a 60-ton crane, the bat­tery-pow­ered ro­bot will make daily de­scents into the ver­ti­cal cave known in Mex­ico as a cenote. It will pro­duce three­d­i­men­sional maps; col­lect rock sam­ples; and, us­ing flood­lights, film nooks and cran­nies too deep for divers to reach.

The great depth of the cenote means that many of its mi­crobes live with­out light or oxy­gen and may be sim­i­lar to what could ex­ist on Europa.

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