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October 7 2012
One of the strangest facets of modern exploration is that we now have more experience with the surface of Mars than the layer of earth not too far beneath our feet. Nearly everything we know about the mantle—the 1,800-mile-thick semi-molten layer of the planet below the crust—comes indirectly: from computer simulations, mantle-derived rocks that made their way to the surface and observation of earthquake waves that move through the mantle.
The international group of scientists that makes up the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP), though, hopes that will soon change. As part of a new project, they are planning to drill some 3.7 miles down into the earth beneath the Pacific Ocean to reach the mantle—and bring up samples of mantle rock for the first time in human history. Damon Teagle, a geochemist at the University of Southampton in England and one of the project’s leaders, told CNN that it will be “the most challenging endeavor in the history of earth science.”.
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