Martian Drill Headed to Antarctica to Test its Boring Potential
Kyle Maxey posted on January 17, 2019 |

A team of engineers from the University of Glasgow has travelled to Antarctica to use a sophisticated drill in an attempt to understand the history of Earth’s climate.

While most drills are straightforward tools, the Glasgow drill is a bit different. Originally developed as a boring tool for Martian exploration, the drill was developed to work in a low-gravity environment and fit aboard an off-world lander. Consequently, the unique drill was built to be compact making it an ideal tool to slip down the narrow boreholes that Antarctic researchers drill through the continent’s ice.

In the coming weeks, the Glasgow team will deploy their drill several hundred meters beneath the Antarctic ice to recover samples of bedrock. Once recovered, engineers will ship their samples back to the UK where the radioactive isotopes embedded in the rock will be examined. According to the University of Glasgow, the radioactive isotopes in these buried Antarctic rocks “can be used as a kind of ‘rock clock’, allowing researchers to determine how long ago the rock was covered by ice sheet, and therefore when—and how often—the ice has receded in the past.”

Armed with these mineral facts, researchers will be able to determine when the Antarctic bedrock was last exposed to the Sun, giving them insight into the ebb and flow of the ice sheet as it has receded and been built back up during eons past.

“That [information] could allow us to validate our climate models with much greater confidence and make better decisions about environmental matters here on Earth,” said Dr. Patrick Harkness of the University of Glasgow.

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