Search for life on icy moon begins in Mexico
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.