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Fantastic voyage

MARCH 12 — A group of scientists hopes to determine why a hole — estimated at hundreds of square miles — has developed on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

The 12-person team will spend six weeks aboard a $100 million research vessel using underwater cameras to measure the hole, located on the Atlantic Ridge mountain range, which until now has baffled scientists, a news report says. Under normal circumstances, the hole should have filled with volcanic materials as it was formed but was filled instead by the Earth’s mantle.

“It doesn’t quite fit the generally accepted model of plate tectonics,” one researcher says in the report. “We hope to get a direct insight into the processes that go on in the Earth.”

Some scientists hypothesize that the hole was created because mantle material was pushed up in solid form instead of magma when tectonic plates pulled apart, the report says. Others believe the Earth’s crust was somehow ripped sideways, which left the hole.

The team will also launch a robotic submarine that will dive some 16,000 feet below the surface to drill for samples of the mantle, the report says.

Jason Fell