The Chikyu research vessel is already the world's deepest drill, probing nearly 23,000 feet beneath the ocean floor. But scientists hope to add another mile to the machine by 2013, allowing it to pierce Earth's mantle for the first time.
PopSci has a look at how the massive drill operates and what it will take to reach Earth's mantle, where scientists expect to find the elements and organisms that were present at our planet's early stages.
Transponders on the ocean floor keep the drill on target as it snakes its way down, with six computer-controlled propellers keeping it from drifting off course. Pipes are added one by one to extend the length of the drill, and synthetic mud is pumped down to the tip to keep it cool and to fortify it against the crushing pressure found at those depths. All the while, 30 foot-long samples of rock are collected and analyzed for various properties.
PopSci has more details on how the Chikyu operates and the measures researchers take to make sure it holds up under the extreme pressure and heat it encounters. It might not be quite as Jules Verne envisioned it, but, piece by piece, this crazy drill is on a journey to the center of the Earth. [PopSci]